In June of 2010, William Kentridge asked Denis Hirson to join him in a public conversation at the opening of Cinq Thèmes, the artist’s retrospective exhibition at the Jeu du Paume in Paris. So fruitful was this event that the two decided to have further conversations, public and private, whenever the time and the occasion seemed right. Nine engagements followed, allowing them to explore at great length the many issues and themes arising from Kentridge’s work. These conversations, in which a writer and an artist grapple with the enormous complexities of making art, grow out of a friendship that stretches back to the 1980s and that is deeply entwined in the fortunes of the city where they both grew up and the country that is the wellspring of their work.
Born in Cambridge in 1951, Denis Hirson lived in South Africa until the age of twenty-two, studying social anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. In 1975 he settled in France, where he has worked as an actor and lecturer at the École Polytechnique. He has written seven books, almost all of them at the frontier between prose and poetry and concerned with memories of South Africa in the time of apartheid. The most recent of these is the novel The Dancing and the Death on Lemon Street. He has also assembled and edited three anthologies of South African writing, including In the Heat of Shadows: South African poetry 1996–2013. Ma langue au chat, a book in French about the delight and torture experienced by an Anglophone when speaking and writing in French, is forthcoming from Les Éditions du Seuil in October 2017.
William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1955. He is a graphic artist, filmmaker and theatre artist renowned for his humanist and poetic perspective on apartheid, colonialism and totalitarianism, and on their lingering effects. Best known for his allegorical animations of charcoal drawings that he erases and appends frame by frame, Kentridge has explored disciplines ranging from sculpture to books, stereoscope to opera. His works are included in numerous international collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Albertina Museum, Vienna. His acclaimed production of Wozzeck travels to the Metropolitan Opera, New York, for the 2019–20 season.