On Animated Films

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    William Kentridge. 9 Drawings for Projection (1989–2003), 2005. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "The first animated films I made were done on the basis of trying to get away from a program in which I could see my life heading out ahead of me (thirteen more solo exhibitions of charcoal drawings!). So I decided I had to do something that couldn't possibly fit into that context, that wasn't going to be in a gallery—something for my own interest and pleasure." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film History of the Main Complaint, 1996. Charcoal and pastel on paper; 31 1/2 x 47 1/4 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "The question I was asking myself was, 'Can I do something that doesn't have to have a meaning, doesn't have to have a social purpose, doesn't have to fit into the politics of the liberation movement or any other kind of agitprop work, but will find its own meaning in the strange way of making an animated film with charcoal drawings?'" —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film History of the Main Complaint, 1996. Charcoal and pastel on paper; 47 1/4 x 63 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "When I first did the films they were very separate from my activity of drawing, which was art. And when a curator came and said he wanted to show my films, I felt insulted and I refused. I said, 'This is nonsense; they're not art, they're films. Here are the drawings, what's wrong with the drawings? Why don't you like the drawings? These are perfectly good drawings, what do you want the films for?'" —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. History of the Main Complaint, 1996. Production stills; 35mm animated film transferred to video, 5:50 min. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "It took me a long time to understand that it was all right that film was the substantive work I was doing. That experience gave me a lot of confidence in the validity of working without a program, without the 'essay' being written in advance. I made a decision that I would never ever write a script, I would never write a storyboard, I would never ever write a proposal on the basis that even if I wrote them, the act of codifying like that somehow killed the project." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Felix in Exile, 1994. Production stills; 35mm animated film transferred to video, 8:43 min. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "The films opened an enormous door because they gave me a sense that it was possible to work without a program in advance, without first having written a script—a sense that if you work conscientiously and hard, and there is something inside you that is of interest, you yourself will be the film and the film will always be you." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old, 1991. Production stills; 16mm animated film transferred to video, 8:22 min. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "A lot of the work that I've done since then, even if it's not using that technique, has certainly used that strategy. It had to do with understanding that images with movement—as well as static images—are a key thing for me to be working on. The provisionality of drawings, the fact that they were going to be succeeded by the next stage of the drawing, was very good for someone who's bad at knowing when to commit something to being finished." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old, 1991. Charcoal and pastel on paper; 47 1/4 x 59 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "Here the drawing would go on till the sequence finished in the film, and that would be the end of the drawing: an understanding of the world as process rather than as fact. And somehow this technique and this medium allow that to come forward. There isn't a contradiction between what the medium itself seems to suggest and things that I'm actually interested in." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Stereoscope, 1998–99. Charcoal and pastel on paper; 47 1/4 x 63 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "When I tried to draw on a computer, its inner logic was very much at odds. The computer had to do with cloning, replication (things staying the same), and effect. You could put an effect that looked like charcoal animation onto the computer (aware of that not being a necessary part of the process, but a kind of decoration added on), whereas the smudge of a charcoal animation is not decoration. It's something you can't avoid; it's there whether you like it or not." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Stereoscope, 1998–99. Charcoal and pastel on paper; 31 7/16 x 48 3/8 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "I think one does think with one's hands. And that's why the keyboard is not a good place for me to think. Some people think very well on a keyboard. I need a kind of fidgeting of charcoal, scissors, or tearing, or something in my hands, as if there's a different brain that is controlling how that works." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Monument, 1990. Production stills; 16mm animated film transferred to video, 3:11 min. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "The political interest in what happens in South Africa is very much part of the work. When I started working as an artist, one of the questions that seemed inescapable to me was how one finds an adequate way (whether it's adequate or not is open to debate) of not initially illustrating a society that one lives in, but allows what happens there to be part of the work, the vocabulary, and the raw material that is dealt with." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Mine, 1991. Production stills; 16mm animated film transferred to video, 5:50 min. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "Johannesburg, exists because gold is under the ground, invisible. It's also a city of dichotomy between very leafy suburbs, which are manmade, to a very bleak landscape around, a complete fiction. All the mountains that are there are mountains which have been taken out of the ground from the mines." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris, 1989. Charcoal on paper; 37 4/5 x 59 2/5 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "The history of Johannesburg is of course the history of two cities: a white city and black people living either invisibly in the city or in areas around the city. You didn't expect to see black people at the swimming pool, or on the bus except at the back. How could people manage to survive in those physical conditions? How could they survive, psychically, the degradation and the abuse to which they were subjected daily in a completely casual, unconsidered way by white people in South Africa?" —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris, 1989. Production stills; 16mm animated film transferred to video, 8:02 min. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "The work is sometimes about trying to recreate the strength of a passion when it was first felt, whether it's anger or distress. I remember when I first saw someone beating someone else up in public. I was driving with my grandparents and, looking down a side street, saw a man lying on the ground and five people kicking his head. And then you would pass onto the next road...It was such a completely fundamental shock that adults could do this to each other." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Tide Table, 2003. Production stills; 35mm animated film transferred to video, 8:50 min. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "I try to hang onto that initial shock. I try to recreate it or to re-evoke it. The amnesia people have about what South Africa is and where we've come from, on the one hand, it's a kind of a willful amnesia. But on the other hand, it does correspond to such a quick naturalization of the circumstances that we live in. It's kind of hard to remember what that world was." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Weighing and Wanting, 1998. Charcoal on paper; 47 1/4 x 63 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "There are lots of drawings that are about the need for comfort. I'm not sure if that's identical to compassion—about a 'taking' rather than a ‘giving'. Maybe the depiction of it is a giving. In the activity of making work, there's a sense that if you spend a day or two days drawing an object or an image there's a sympathy towards that object embodied in the human labor of making the drawing." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Weighing and Wanting, 1998. Charcoal on paper; 47 1/4 x 63 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "For me, there is something in the dedication to the image, whether it's Géricault painting guillotined heads or another shocking image. There's something about the hours of physically studying those heads and painting them that becomes a compassionate act even though you can tell that the artist is very cold-bloodedly and ghoulishly looking at disaster or using other people's pain as raw material for the work." —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Weighing and Wanting, 1998. Charcoal on paper; 47 1/4 x 63 in. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    "That's what every artist does—use other people's pain as well as his own as raw material. So there is—if not a vampirishness—certainly an appropriation of other people's distress in the activity of being a writer or an artist. But there is also something in the activity of both—contemplating, depicting, and spending the time with it—which I hope as an artist redeems the activity from one of simple exploitation and abuse." —William Kentridge