William Kentridge’s extensive solo exhibition “That Which We Do Not Remember,” the artist’s first in Eastern Europe, is an especially poignant event for Kaunas, as Lithuania is the homeland of Kentridge’s great-grandparents. Memory, oblivion, and temporality become the show’s building blocks for constructing a shaky connection between the past and the present.
The complicated architecture of the museum adds to the disjointed perception of time and narrative as well as the complexity of the artist’s oeuvre itself. Spilling across several floors, the show commences with a black-and-white mural titled When I am Dead and Need Tenderness, 2021, which transforms three walls of the inner courtyard into a road for a funeral cortege. The drawing appears in Kentridge’s five-channel-video installation The Refusal of Time, 2012, a thirty-minute contemplation of the snarled legacies of colonialism, industry, and the relativity of time displayed on the museum’s second floor. Surrounded by the flickering screens sits an “elephant”—a kinetic wooden sculpture with mechanical lungs—breathing to the rhythm of lost industrial utopias. Uncertainty here is embraced and celebrated as it dissolves calcified identities and ideologies.
You Who Never Arrived, 2022, is the last of many processions in the show. Commissioned for the museum’s historic auditorium, the installation merges photographs of an abandoned Jewish cemetery in Kaunas with paper-cut scenography of a South African grassland. Large megaphones placed throughout the space amplify Zulu gospel songs played over South African and Western Christian musical harmonies in a hypnotic arrangement of sound. Looking up at the towering scene set amid the auditorium’s rows of dark wooden desks, the viewer might experience a sense of being buried herself together with those beneath the paper tombstones. The feeling induced is not dread, however. Instead, the work is a meditative reflection on historic memory, on what has been erased and what should never fall into oblivion.