‘The chaos of the project is mirrored by the piece being about chaos, and disintegration and re-gathering. So it’s kind of the opposite of entropy; it’s things gathering into forms rather than disintegrating into forms.’
Standing just over five feet tall, Fire Walker is the captivating sculptural creation of internationally acclaimed South African artist William Kentridge. Master of the illusive as much as the allusive, Kentridge eloquently explores the lingering scars and stains of his nation’s troubled past that spill over into the present day in his prolific and thought-provoking oeuvre. His enrapturing and emotionally charged works seductively engage with a history that can never be erased, skillfully manipulating not only subject matter but materiality, perception, execution and physicality as means to address – and challenge – the past. Created in 2010, the present work fits in to Kentridge’s entrancing body of metamorphic sculptures, which shift in and out of focus depending on the angle from which they are viewed. Comprised of shaped facets of steel, bolted together across three vertical poles, the work cunningly flits between abstract disarray and comprehensible figuration. Gleaned from a precise, head-on perspective, the fragmentary steel pieces seem to merge, revealing a coherent and singular image: an anonymous female traveler, depicted in diaspora. A recurring motif much explored in Kentridge’s opus, the wandering vagrant alludes to some of the darkest chapters of human history, from apartheid and the Holocaust to the present day migrant crisis. Balancing a steel drum upon her head, the Fire Walker is laden with her worldly possessions, a solitary figure forever fixed in flight.
Fluctuating between chaos and coherence, the process of the work becomes a poignant metaphor for the way we, as human beings, make our own ways through life, piecing together fragments of knowledge and information as we continuously construct and perceive the world we live in. ‘The chaos of the project is mirrored by the piece being about chaos, and disintegration and re-gathering,’ Kentridge explains, ‘So it’s kind of the opposite of entropy; it’s things gathering into forms rather than disintegrating into forms’ (W. Kentridge, quoted on Art21, https://art21. org/watch/extended-play/william-kentridge-return-short/ [accessed 3rd February 2018]).