Play & ProcessPublished on November 10th, 2010 by Jessica Hamlin
How can a sense of play change the way we make something, whether that is a work of art, a piece of writing, or a scientific experiment? William Kentridge says, “Our common understanding of play is allowing yourself to have a childish experience and to play a game. But…it has also to do with principles and rules which may not be clear, in which you have to give yourself over to the rules, to the dictates of the activity.” Looking at his film Breathe (2008) and the performance I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008, consider how play, spontaneity, and experimentation inform both Kentridge’s working process and the final artwork itself.
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of having a plan – versus play or spontaneity —in various activities, such as creating an artwork, cooking, or doing research?
- Is it important to set out to make a work of art in order to end up with one? What is the role of intention in creating an art object? What is the role of chance?
- What does it mean to “think with your hands?” What jobs, projects, or professions ask you to do this?
The Process of Playing
With his work in the studio, on stage, and on the set of The Nose (2010) as the backdrop for this film, Kentridge discusses the role of play in his work and artistic process.
- What might he mean when he says that the “seriousness of play” is about “staying in the looseness of trying different things?” Why call the act of play “serious”?
- Kentridge states, “It’s always been in between the things I thought I was going to do that the real work has happened.” Discuss what you think he means by “real work.”
Make up a set of rules to follow through the process of creating a sculpture, collage, film, or poem. Using found objects, images, film clips, or text, create a playful assemblage that begins with your rules and then breaks them.
The following images show Kentridge working in his Johannesburg studio on the film Breathe (2008), with composer Philip Miller and opera singer “Kimmy” Skota. This work combines music recorded from a cell phone with an animation produced by arranging and then disassembling ripped pieces of paper.
- Discuss the process Kentridge uses for making the film Breathe. How does this process include spontaneity and experimentation, as well as a pre-conceived plan?
- How does the process for creating Breathe reflect a sense of play?
- How does Kentridge’s studio serve as a space that supports his artistic process?
Kentridge combines video projection and live performance in his work I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008).
- How does Kentridge’s role as a performer contribute new elements of play and experimentation?
- What are the individual visual and performative components of this work and how do they come together to create a unified whole?
- Describe the skills Kentridge employs to create this performance. How is this work both playful and serious?
- Compare the process of creating this work with the process of creating Breathe. How are the works similar? How do they differ?
Compile a collection of materials, found objects, and tools for making art and divide them into two piles. Using one pile of materials, first create a plan for making a work of art and give your instructions to someone else to complete. In association with the second pile of materials, instruct someone to instinctively play with the materials to create a work of art. How are the two pieces different? Have a conversation with your collaborators to find out how the experience of producing them varied.
This theme relates to pages 5 and 7 in the Educators’ Guide and Screening Companion.