In the Studio

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    William Kentridge in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "I suppose the first promptings or proddings to work as an artist are still there and the questions haven’t changed. One does the work and then tries to formulate a series of questions which one could possibly ask as a reason for the work. So it’s always reverse engineering in terms of the ideas." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "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 recognizable 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

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    William Kentridge in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "The work starts with the pleasure of putting pieces of paper together and turning them from pieces of paper into a woman—or taking lines that meander around a piece of plastic and turning them into a horse. That’s the starting point. That’s the pleasure and that’s the need; that’s the impulse." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge creating video animation for Breathe (2008) in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "Very secondarily, you’re saying, 'Okay, having done that (A) can one find some justification for this activity, or is it just a kind of occupational therapy? Or (B) if it does interest people, if there are things in it that have emerged that echo other thoughts or raise other sets of associations, where do those come from and what is the nature of the work?' In other words, 'What, in spite of myself, is there in the work which interests other people?' It’s not that I’m saying I don’t think the work has a meaning or a logic or a substance, but I’d be very wary (I’m always very wary) about putting that at the beginning rather than at the end of the process." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge creating video animation for Breathe (2008) in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

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    William Kentridge and assistants creating video animation for Breathe (2008) in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "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." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge creating video animation for I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008) in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "Robert Motherwell paints a series of black shapes on a canvas. And those stay resolutely as black shapes. But allow them to move an inch and we’ll suddenly start constructing all sorts of images. I suppose one of the arguments is that people say that’s a mis-looking at abstract painting. And I’m saying that the desperation to hang onto abstraction—to say, 'These are only black shapes of paper, that’s all they are, they’re forever just random black shapes of paper,' is also not so much a misunderstanding (people understand) but a denial of what it is that we do." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge creating video animation for I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008) in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "We see this optically as black shapes on the canvas. When you know it’s going to turn into a horse you can recognize head and tail. Without that they’re still black shapes on a field. But as soon as we absolutely recognize it as a quadruped, because there are four feet with a neck, a spine, a tail, and a head—and particularly once it moves—that’s what we see." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge creating video animation for I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008) in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "It’s not about a generosity of viewing. It’s about an inability not to do that. I think one does three things when looking. On the one hand, there’s recognizing what the actual object is (black torn sheets of paper). Second, there’s the inability not to see that in fact these turn into a horse. And third, which for me is the vital part, is the stepping back behind ourselves and understanding (A) that we’re fooled—in other words, these are black pieces of paper—and (B) taking pleasure in constantly making sense of the world, even in fragments or inconsistencies which we push into a pattern." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge creating video animation for I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008) in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    "There are great portrait silhouette cutters who can cut a piece of paper and it will look like your silhouette perfectly—which I’m not good at, at all. But what I can do—but only as well as anybody else in the world can do— is recognize things as they appear. It’s not that I’m better at recognizing eight pieces of paper as a horse than anyone else. What I do is allow myself the luxury of saying that this is going to be the way I’m going to spend months and years of my life, arranging stupid pieces of paper and then saying, 'Ah, a horse!' every day as if it’s something fresh." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2003. Photo by Anne McIlleron. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "Take mis-hearings. When you mis-hear something, what does your brain immediately do? It immediately tries to find a possible meaning. So with my daughter, when she was four: I was telling her a story about a cat that was being chased by a dog in the garden. It ran through the cat flap and it was saved. She retold the story to her mother and said, 'Daddy was telling a story about a cat, and it was chased by a dog, and the cat flapped its wings and it escaped.' Flap was not a term that was understood." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge in his studio, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2003. Photo by Anne McIlleron. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "But what does the brain immediately do? It immediately says, 'Okay, flap, flap, flap...,' and it not only constructs a meaning for it but it constructs a whole complicated scenario. You’ve got a flap; then you’ve got to have wings. So we are constantly constructing these complex worlds out of very vestigial clues. My work has been to try to find strategies to let that happen." —William Kentridge