The set of 30 etchings for Nose, 2006-2009, and Wittgenstein’s Rhinoceros, 2007, and later XA XA XA, Portable Monuments and Eight Figures, 2010, were all made leading up to, or concurrent with, Kentridge’s direction of Shostakovich’s The Nose at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2010. Using a mixture of three techniques (sugar lift, drypoint, engraving), etchings for The Nose were created originally as a sketchbook of ideas offering different thoughts. In advance of preparations for the opera, Kentridge conducted research to conceive of a visual language for the production, rooting himself in Suprematism and Constructivism in order to craft a formal vocabulary for its staging. Exploring the art and ideology of Soviet history and the despotism of Stalin’s regime allowed parallels to be drawn to the complex situation of South Africa. The aesthetic platform chosen became a way to merge ideas, integrating Gogol’s short story (1830s) on which the opera is based, with research into Russian iconography of the 1920s, the time when Shostakovich wrote the opera.
Kentridge imagines ‘the incomprehensibility of the world through the aesthetics of the absurd—the extraordinary nonsense hierarchy of apartheid in South Africa made one understand the absurd not as a peripheral mistake at the edge of a society but as a central point of construction, so the absurd always, for me is a species of realism rather than a species of joke or fun. That’s why one can take the joke of 'The Nose' very seriously.’