Posts Tagged ‘William Kentridge Drawing for the film Stereoscope


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.


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).” From Wikipedia.

“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.”” From the V & A website


Claude Glass, manufactured in England, 18th century


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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Exhibition: ‘William Kentridge: Five Themes’ at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 31st May 2009

Curator: Curator of Media Arts Rudolf Frieling and Mark Rosenthal, adjunct curator of contemporary art at the Norton Museum of Art



One of my favourite artists in the world. His technique – the palimpsestic nature of his practice where the history, memories and spaces of previous drawings are overwritten again and again on a single piece of paper without their ever being lost (unlike traditional animation techniques) – is amazing. His use of drawing, animation and the camera to record narratives of connection always has personal and archetypal themes – love, loss, bigotry, big business, persecution, reconciliation and social conflict in the stories of his homeland South Africa. His perspective on the world, his knowledge of books and philosophy, his understanding that stories exist as faint, legible remains completes the perception that he is an artist drawn to the line of the world. His work is moving and compassionate as all great art should be.


Many thankx to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting.



William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Stereoscope [Felix Crying]' 1998–99


William Kentridge
Drawing for the film Stereoscope [Felix Crying]



“Combining the political with the poetic, William Kentridge’s work has made an indelible mark on the contemporary art scene. Dealing with subjects as sobering as apartheid and colonialism, Kentridge often imbues his art with dreamy, lyrical undertones or comedic bits of self-deprecation, making his powerful messages both alluring and ambivalent. Perhaps best known for his stop-motion films of charcoal drawings, the internationally renowned South African artist also works in etching, collage, sculpture, and the performing arts, opera in particular. This exhibition explores five primary themes that have engaged Kentridge over the last three decades through a comprehensive selection of his work from the 1980s to the present. Concentrating on his most recent production and including many pieces that have not been seen in the United States, the exhibition reveals as never before the full arc of his distinguished career.”

Text from the SFMOMA website [Online] Cited 01/04/2009 (no longer available online)



William Kentridge
“Invisible Mending” from 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès
35-mm and 16-mm animation film



William Kentridge: Five Themes, a comprehensive survey of the contemporary South African artist’s work, will premiere at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) on March 14, 2009. Featuring more than 75 works in a range of media – including animated films, drawings, prints, theater models, sculptures, and books – the exhibition is co-organised by SFMOMA and the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. The San Francisco presentation, overseen by SFMOMA Curator of Media Arts Rudolf Frieling, will be on view through May 31, 2009.

Curated by Mark Rosenthal, adjunct curator of contemporary art at the Norton Museum of Art, in close collaboration with the artist, the exhibition explores five primary themes that have engaged Kentridge over the past three decades. Although the exhibition highlights projects completed since 2000 (many of which have not been seen in the United States), it will also present, for the first time, Kentridge’s most recent work alongside his earlier projects from the 1980s and 1990s – revealing as never before the full arc of his distinguished career.

Following its debut at SFMOMA, the survey will travel to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Norton Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Plans for the European tour – which will tentatively include Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Albertina Museum in Vienna, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem – are being finalized. Accompanying the exhibition is a richly illustrated catalogue, complete with a DVD produced by the artist for this special occasion. The San Francisco presentation of William Kentridge: Five Themes is made possible by the generous support of the Koret Foundation and Doris and Donald Fisher.

William Kentridge is one of today’s most influential artists, and with this exhibition, SFMOMA continues its commitment to bringing such groundbreaking artists as Olafur Eliasson, Richard Tuttle, and Jeff Wall to local and international audiences,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, who co-curated the last major retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States in 2001. “Although Kentridge is primarily recognised for his animated films, he has devoted most of his time to making works on paper. The drawn line is completely inseparable from his work in other media, informing everything he creates. His transformation of drawing into animated film reflects his deep interest in how content evolves from process, how meaning accrues through making.”

Exhibition curator Rosenthal adds, “Even as Kentridge has established his reputation as a master draftsman, printmaker, and one of the preeminent artist–filmmakers of our time, he has also expanded the traditional notion of political art, evolving the genre from a conventional depiction of horrors to a more nuanced portrayal of the psychological effects of political events upon those who observe them, whether they be perpetrators, victims, or onlookers.”

Born in 1955 in Johannesburg, where he continues to live and work, Kentridge has earned international acclaim for his interdisciplinary practice, which often fuses drawing, film, and theater. Known for engaging with the social landscape and political background of his native South Africa, he has produced a searing body of work that explores themes of colonial oppression and social conflict, loss and reconciliation, and the ephemeral nature of both personal and cultural memory.

Kentridge first gained recognition in 1997, when his work was included in Documenta X in Kassel, Germany, and in the Johannesburg and Havana Biennials, which were followed by prominent solo exhibitions internationally. His art was widely introduced to American audiences in 2001 through a traveling retrospective – co-curated by Neal Benezra when he served as deputy director of the Art Institute of Chicago – which primarily included works made before 2000. William Kentridge: Five Themes brings viewers up to date on the artist’s work over the past decade, exploring how his subject matter has evolved from the specific context of South Africa to more universal stories. In recent years, Kentridge has dramatically expanded both the scope of his projects (such as recent full-scale opera productions) and their thematic concerns, which now include his own studio practice, colonialism in Namibia and Ethiopia, and the cultural history of post-revolutionary Russia. His newer work is based on an intensive exploration of themes connected to his own life experience, as well as the political and social issues that most concern him.

Although his hand-drawn animations are often described as films, Kentridge himself prefers to call them “drawings for projection.” He makes them using a distinctive technique in which he painstakingly creates, erases, and reworks charcoal drawings that are photographed and projected as moving image. Movement is generated within the image, by the artist’s hand; the camera serves merely to record its progression. As such, the animations explore a tension between material object and time-based performance, uniquely capturing the artist’s working process while telling poignant and politically urgent stories.

Concerning the artist’s innovative film installations of the past ten years, Rudolf Frieling adds: “Kentridge has been considered primarily as an artist who draws for projections. Yet his recent installation-based films explore an expanded cinema space and question the very foundation of what it means to produce and perceive a moving image.”

In light of SFMOMA’s history with Kentridge – in 2004 the museum acquired the artist’s landmark film Tide Table (2003) and a set of related drawings – and the rich holdings of his work in private Bay Area collections, the occasion to present the first major exhibition of his work in San Francisco has particular resonance and reflects the museum’s ongoing commitment to his art. In conjunction with the exhibition, SFMOMA will bring the artist’s multimedia opera The Return of Ulysses to San Francisco for performances at Project Artaud Theater from March 25 through 29, 2009. Kentridge will also present his lecture-format solo performance I am not me, the horse is not mine at SFMOMA on March 14, 2009.


The Five Themes

“Parcours d’Atelier: Artist in the Studio” 

The first section of the exhibition examines a crucial turning point in Kentridge’s work, one in which his own art practice became a subject. According to the artist, many of these projects are meant to reflect the “invisible work that must be done” before beginning a drawing, film, or sculpture. This theme is epitomised by the large-scale multiscreen projection 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès (2003), an homage to the early French film director, who, like Kentridge, often combined performance with drawing. The suite of seven films – each depicting Kentridge at work in his studio or interacting with his creations – has only been shown once before in the United States and will be accompanied by a rarely seen group of related drawings, forming an intimate portrayal of the artist’s process.


“Thick Time: Soho and Felix” 

A second section of the exhibition is dedicated to Kentridge’s best-known fictional characters, Soho Eckstein, a domineering industrialist and real estate developer whose troubled conscience reflects certain miens of contemporary South Africa, and his sensitive alter ego, Felix Teitlebaum, who pines for Soho’s wife and often functions as a surrogate for the artist himself. The centrepiece of this section, an ongoing work entitled 9 Drawings for Projection, comprises nine short animated films: Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris (1989), Monument (1990), Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old (1991), Mine (1991), Felix in Exile (1994), History of the Main Complaint (1996), WEIGHING . . . and WANTING (1998), Stereoscope (1999), and Tide Table (2003). These projections, along with a key selection of related drawings, follow the lives of Soho and Felix as they struggle to navigate the political and social climate of Johannesburg during the final decade of apartheid. According to Kentridge, the Soho and Felix films were made without a script or storyboards and are largely about his own process of discovery.


“Occasional and Residual Hope: Ubu and the Procession” 

In 1975 Kentridge acted in Ubu Rex (an adaptation of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry’s satire about a corrupt and cowardly despot), and he subsequently devoted a large body of work to the play. He began with a series of eight etchings, collectively entitled Ubu Tells the Truth (1996), and in 1997 made an animated film of the same name, as well as a number of related drawings. These works also deal with the South African experience, specifically addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings set up by the nation’s government in 1995 to investigate human rights abuses during apartheid. Other highlights in this grouping include the film Shadow Procession (1999), in which Kentridge first utilises techniques of shadow theatre and jointed-paper figures; the multi-panel collage Portage (2000); a large charcoal-and-pastel-on-paper work entitled Arc Procession (Smoke, Ashes, Fable) (1990); and some of the artist’s rough-hewn bronze sculptures.


William Kentridge. 'Act IV Scene I from Ubu Tells the Truth' 1996-97


William Kentridge
Act IV Scene I from Ubu Tells the Truth



“Sarastro and the Master’s Voice: The Magic Flute” 

A selection of Kentridge’s drawings, films, and theatre models inspired by his 2005 production of the Mozart opera The Magic Flute for La Monnaie, the leading opera house in Belgium, will be a highlight of the exhibition. The artist’s video projection Learning the Flute (2003), which started the Flute project, shifts between images of black charcoal drawings on white paper and white chalk drawings projected onto a blackboard, forming a meditation on darkness and light. Preparing the Flute (2005) was created as a large-scale maquette within which to test projections central to the production of the opera. Another theatre model, Black Box/Chambre Noire (2006), which has never been seen in the United States, addresses the opera’s themes, specifically through an examination of the colonial war of 1904 in German South-West Africa, and of the genocide of the Herero people. What Will Come (has already come) (2007), a consideration of colonialism in Ethiopia, presents an anamorphic film installation in which intentionally distorted images projected onto a tabletop right themselves only when reflected in a cylindrical mirror. This work was recently acquired, under the guidance of Rosenthal, by the Norton Museum of Art.


“Learning from the Absurd: The Nose” 

The fifth section comprises a multichannel projection made in preparation for Kentridge’s forthcoming staging of The Nose, a Metropolitan Opera production that will premiere in New York in March 2010. The Nose – a 1930 Dmitri Shostakovich opera based on Nikolai Gogol’s absurdist short story of 1836 – concerns a Russian official whose nose disappears from his face, only to turn up, in uniform, as a higher-ranking official moving in more respected circles. Kentridge’s related work, I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008), on view in the United States for the first time, is a room-size installation of projected films that use Gogol’s story as the basis for examining Russian modernism and the suppression of the Russian avant-garde in the 1920s and 1930s.


Related Performances 

Acknowledging the profound importance of theatrical work in Kentridge’s oeuvre, SFMOMA will bring the artist’s opera The Return of Ulysses to San Francisco in conjunction with the exhibition. First performed in Brussels in 1998, Kentridge’s acclaimed reinterpretation of Claudio Monteverdi’s classic 1640 opera (based on Homer’s epic poem) is transposed to a mid-20th-century Johannesburg setting. This limited-engagement performance features live actors and musicians, as well as 13 life-size, artisan-crafted wooden puppets and projections of Kentridge’s animated charcoal drawings. The Return of Ulysses will run at Project Artaud Theater from Tuesday, March 24, through Saturday, March 28 (preview March 24, opening March 25), and is a production of Pacific Operaworks, in Seattle, incorporating puppeteers from Kentridge’s longtime collaborator, the Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town, in South Africa.

In a special opening-night event on March 14, Kentridge will present a lecture-format solo performance of I am not me, the horse is not mine, which premiered at the 16th Biennale of Sydney in June 2008 (and shares the same title of the related multichannel projection making its U.S. debut with the exhibition). This live performance focuses on the development process of Kentridge’s upcoming opera production, The Nose.


Definitive Publication with Companion DVD

To coincide with the exhibition, SFMOMA and the Norton Museum of Art, in association with Yale University Press, will publish a richly illustrated catalogue (hardcover, $50). In the catalogue’s principal essay, exhibition curator Mark Rosenthal presents a portrait of the artist, showing the interrelationship between aspects of Kentridge’s character and the protagonists that populate his work. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, chief curator at the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, examines the artist’s themes and iconography in closer detail, addressing Kentridge’s working methods as he moves freely between disciplines. Rudolf Frieling demonstrates that although Kentridge is not typically discussed as an installation artist, there are compelling reasons to consider him as such. Cornelia H. Butler, Judith B. Hecker, and Klaus Biesenbach, curators at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, explore the subject of performance in Kentridge’s work. Finally, a conversation between Kentridge and Michael Auping, chief curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, focuses on the artist’s drawing practice. In addition, the artist has written texts to introduce each of the book’s five plate sections.

For the first time, Kentridge will produce a DVD for distribution with the publication, making the catalogue unique among existing literature on the artist. Combining intimate studio footage of the artist at work with fragments from significant film projects, the DVD offers a fascinating look at how Kentridge’s ideas evolve from raw concept to finished work.

Press release from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art



William Kentdridge


William Kentridge. 'Felix in Exile' 1994


William Kentdridge
Drawing for the projection Felix in Exile



William Kentdridge
Felix in Exile


More videos of William Kentridge’s work are available on You Tube



San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco CA 94103
Phone: 415.357.4000

Opening hours:

SFMOMA website

William Kentridge on Wikipedia


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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, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr 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.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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