Archive for March 9th, 2012


Notes from the lecture ‘Anti-Entropy: A natural History of the Studio’ by William Kentridge at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne

Date: 8th March 2012


Edward Francis Burney. 'A view of Philip James de Loutherbourg's Eidophusikon' c. 1782


Edward Francis Burney (English, 1760-1848)
A view of Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon
c. 1782
At left a man bowing to a woman, to right figures seated on a bench in the foreground, watching a scene titled ‘Satan Arraying his Troops on the Banks of a Fiery Lake, with the Raising of the Palace of Pandemonium’ during a performance of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” on a stage labelled EIDOPHUSIKON in a cartouche above
Pen and grey ink and grey wash, with watercolour
© The Trustees of the British Museum



A munificence of Minor White and the revelation of the object through contemplation could be found in the lecture by William Kentridge. As an artist you must keep repeating and constructively playing and something else, some new idea, some new way of looking at the world may emerge. As a glimpse into the working methodology of one of the worlds great artists the lecture was fascinating stuff!

Images in this posting are used under fair use for commentary and illustration of the lecture notes. No copyright breach is intended. © All rights remain with the copyright holder. My additions to the text can be found in [ ] brackets.



On self-doubt as an artist

“At four in the morning there are no lack of branches for the crow of doubt to land upon.”

On Memory

“Memory – both memory and the forgetting of memory. For example, the building of monuments [monuments to the Holocaust, to wars] takes the responsibility of remembering away.”

On Play

“We absolutely want to make sense of the world in that way. That’s one of the principles of play – that however much you distort and break things apart, in the end we will try to reconstruct them in some way to make sense of the world. I think that every child does it. It’s fundamental.”
On Looking

“It’s the capacity for recognition that makes a difference between order and disorder in looking at visual images. And it’s the vocabulary of recognisable images that we have inside us, which is completely vital to what it is to see. I don’t really buy the idea that order and disorder are the same.”

William Kentridge



First History of the Cinema

Performances of Transformation

  • Cinema
  • Shadow dancing
  • Eidophusikon (The Eidophusikon was a piece of art, no longer extant, created by 18th century English painter Philip James de Loutherbourg. It opened in Leicester Square in February 1781.Described by the media of his day as “Moving Pictures, representing Phenomena of Nature,” the Eidophusikon can be considered an early form of movie making. The effect was achieved by mirrors and pulleys.
  • Quick change artist
  • Stage magicians

All work against the time of the audience e.g. the quick change artist may take 3 seconds, the sunset in a Georges Méliès film may take 2 minutes instead of 2 hours. The technology / scrims / screens happen at different speeds but the different times become one in the finished film. There is an elision of time: appearances / disappearances. Stopping time [changing a scene, changing clothing etc…], starting time again.


Méliès starring in 'The Living Playing Cards' 1904


George Méliès starring in The Living Playing Cards (1904)



Second History of the Cinema

The sedimented gaze of the early camera. The slow chemicals meant that the object had to wait under the camera’s gaze for minutes. People were held in place by stiff neck braces to capture the trace of their likeness. Congealed time.

On the other hand, in cinema, a tear forward becomes a repair in reverse.

By rolling the film in reverse there is a REVERSAL of time, a REMAKING of the world – the power to be more than you are – by reversing to perfection. You throw a book or smash a plate: in reverse they become perfect again, a utopian world.


Giving yourself over to what the medium suggests, you follow the metaphor back to the surface. Following the activity [of play] back to its root. Projecting forwards, projecting backwards. There is endless rehearsal, constant repetition, then discovering the nature of the final shot or drawing to be made. New ideas get thrown around: leaning into the experience, the experiment, the repetition, the rehearsal.


Four elements

  1. something to be seen
  2. the utopian perfection: perfectibility
  3. the grammar of learning that action
  4. Greater ideas, further ideas and thoughts; potentiality and its LOSS
    Further meanings arise

How is this achieved?
Rehearsal, repetition

New thoughts will arise being led by the body in the studio NOT in the mind. Not conceptual but the feeling of the body walking in the studio.

The physical action as the starting point not the concept.


Six different degrees of tension

  1. Least tension in the body possible: slumped
  2. Relaxed
  3. Neutral
  4. Purpose: an impulse to make things happen – desire
  5. Insistence: listen to me, this is very important
  6. Manic: Noh theatre with its rictus of the body

What the body suggests is the construction of an image.

There are different degrees of tension in these performances. What do they suggest? This reverse osmosis from one state to another?


Third History of Cinema

Technologies of Looking

Pre-cinematic devices – a process of seeing in the world, of looking. Produces a reconfigured seeing, the invisible made [moving] visible.



3D world made into a 2D image put back into 3D by our brains. The nature of binocularity, of depth perception. We see an illusion of depth, a construction by the eyes. Our brain is a muscle combining the two images. Depth of Field (DOF): focusing at different distances, we are inside the field of the image. Peripheral vision is blanked off; we look through a magnifying glass. A machine for demonstrating seeing.

Text from the Wikipedia website


William Kentridge. Drawing for the film 'Stereoscope' 1998-99


William Kentridge (South African, b. 1955)
Drawing for the film Stereoscope
Charcoal, pastel, and coloured pencil on paper
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2008 William Kentridge


Zoetrope by William George Horner, 1834


Zoetrope by William George Horner, 1834



An illusion of movement not depth. Double revelation:

A/ the brain constructed illusion of movement
B/ Caught in time [as the action goes around and around] and wanting to get out of it!


In the reordering, in the crack, something else may emerge, some new idea may eventuate. The tearing of time. 

[Marcus: the cleft in time]

Text from the Wikipedia website


The Etching Press

There are erotics built into the language of the etching, but there is also a logic built into the machine used for etching. The Proof print, arriving at the first state. Going on the journey from artist as maker to artist as viewer through the mechanism of the etching press.


Artist/Maker unknown. 'Claude Glass' manufactured in England, 18th century


Artist / Maker unknown
Claude Glass, manufactured in England
18th century
V & A



Claude Glass

“A Claude glass (or black mirror) is a small mirror, slightly convex in shape, with its surface tinted a dark colour. Bound up like a pocket-book or in a carrying case, black mirrors were used by artists, travellers and connoisseurs of landscape and landscape painting. Black Mirrors have the effect of abstracting the subject reflected in it from its surroundings, reducing and simplifying the colour and tonal range of scenes and scenery to give them a painterly quality).”

Text from the Wikipedia website


“The Claude glass was standard equipment for Picturesque tourists, producing instant tonal images that supposedly resembled works by Claude. “The person using it ought always to turn his back to the object that he views,” Thomas West explained in his Guide to the Lakes. “It should be suspended by the upper part of the case… holding it a little to the right or the left (as the position of the parts to be viewed require) and the face screened from the sun.”

Object Type

A Claude Glass – essentially a small, treated mirror contained in a box – is a portable drawing and painting aid that was widely used in the later 18th century by amateur artists on sketching tours. The reflections in it of surrounding scenery were supposed to resemble some of the characteristics of Italian landscapes by the famous 17th-century painter and sketcher Claude Lorrain, hence the name.

Materials & Use

The ‘glass’ consists of a slightly convex blackened mirror, which was carried in the hand and held up to the eye. The image thus seen was the scenery behind – rather than in front of – the user. The mirror’s convexity reduced extensive views to the dimensions of a small drawing. The use of a blackened rather than an ordinary silvered mirror resulted in a somewhat weakened reflection, which stressed the prominent features in the landscape at the expense of detail. It also lowered the colour key. A larger version of this device is said on occasion to have been fixed to the windows of horse-drawn carriages in order to reflect the passing scenery.”

From the V & A website


Artist/Maker unknown. 'Claude Glass' manufactured in England, 18th century


Artist / Maker unknown
Claude Glass, manufactured in England
18th century
V & A


Anamorphic Mirror

A counter intuitive way of drawing; turning 2D into 3D. The landscape has no edge, like a carrousel.



Anamorphic drawing and cone shaped mirror


Anamorphic drawing and cone shaped mirror


William Kentridge studio


William Kentridge studio
Photo by John Hodgkiss
Art Tatler



The Studio

In the studio you gather the pieces together like a kind of Zoetrope. You may arrive at a new idea, a new starting point. Repetition, going around and around your head (at four in the morning!). There must be a truce between the artist as maker and the artist as viewer. As in earlier times, you walk the cloisters, you promenade.

You find the walk that is the prehistory of the drawing, that is the prehistory to the work.

A multiple, fragmented, layered performance of walking. You are trying to find the grammar of the studio – the necessary stupidity. Making a space for uncertainty. The conscious suppression of rationality. At some point, emerging, escaping the Zoetrope, from the physical making, something will be revealed. The spaces open up by the stupidities. Something new emerges.




Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia

William Kentridge: Five Themes

Thursday 8 March – Sunday 27 May 2012
Exhibition open daily 10am – 6pm

ACMI website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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