On Perception

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    William Kentridge. Front left: Nose on Rearing Horse, 2007. Watercolor on paper; 78 x 77 1/2 in. Front center: Drawing for What Will Come (has already come) (Two Heads), 2007. Charcoal on paper, cold rolled steel table and mirrored steel cylinder; paper diameter: 47 1/4 in., cylinder higher: 11 1/2 in., diameter: 6 1/2 in. Installation view from Seeing Double, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2008. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

    “I’m interested in machines that make you aware of the process of seeing and aware of what you do when you construct the world by looking. This is interesting in itself, but more as a broad-based metaphor for how we understand the world.” —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Double Vision, 2007. Set of 8 stereoscopic cards, colophon wood box and stereoscope; dimensions variable, each card 7 x 3 1/2 in. Edition of 25. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    “When you look through a stereoscopic viewer, you're aware that you have two completely flat images, and that all that is happening is that your brain is constructing an illusion of three dimensional depth, which is very clear when you look at the stereoscopic view because you know you're seeing two flat images. What's much less obvious is that that's what you're doing all the time in the world.” —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Double Vision (details), 2007. Set of 8 stereoscopic cards, colophon wood box and stereoscope; dimensions variable, each card 7 x 3 1/2 in. Edition of 25. Photography by John Hodgkiss. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    “Our retinas are receiving flat images, and our brain combines the two images from our retinas into this illusion of coherent depth. And because we do it so well we believe that’s what we’re seeing.” —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. What Will Come (has already come), 2007, installation view, 16th Biennale of Sydney, Australia. William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, production still, 2010. © Art21, Inc. 2010.

    “The anamorphic film, What Will Come (has already come) (2007), which is about the Italian-Ethiopian war of the 1930s, works on the principle that what is distorted in the projection gets corrected in the viewer’s seeing of it in a mirror. So the distortion is the correction and the original is the distorted.” —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for What Will Come (has already come) (Gas Mask and World on Legs), 2007, installation view from Seeing Double, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2008. Charcoal on paper, cold rolled steel table and mirrored steel cylinder; paper diameter: 47 1/4 in., cylinder higher: 11 1/2 in., diameter: 6 1/2 in. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery.

    “One of the aspects of doing the film or the drawings was learning the grammar of the transformations that happen when you go from a flat surface to the curved mirror. So, for example, to draw a straight line is relatively complicated because every straight line is in fact a curve, whereas every straight line that you draw becomes a parabola.” —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for What Will Come (has already come) (Two Heads), 2007, installation view from Seeing Double, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2008. Charcoal on paper, cold rolled steel table and mirrored steel cylinder; paper diameter: 47 1/4 in., cylinder higher: 11 1/2 in., diameter: 6 1/2 in. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

    “Looped telephone wires are very easy. You simply draw a series of straight lines on the drawing and then lines will loop themselves around the surface of the cylinder. If you want a straight line, you’ve got to calculate a not obvious curve on the sheet of paper. But it also means that suddenly a circle, which is very easy to draw on a flat surface with a compass, has to become quite a strange kidney bean-shaped object in order to appear as a circle on the mirror.” —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Drawing for What Will Come (has already come) (Two Heads) (details), 2007, installation view from Seeing Double, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2008. Charcoal on paper, cold rolled steel table and mirrored steel cylinder; paper diameter: 47 1/4 in., cylinder higher: 11 1/2 in., diameter: 6 1/2 in. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

    “So when you see the anamorphic drawing and its correction in the mirror, what you are very aware of is how your brain is constructing what appears to be a perfect circle when you know in fact it’s not a perfect circle. It’s a completely disgusting kidney shape.” —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Double Canna, 2004, installation view from Seeing Double, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2008. Two drawings with charcoal and colored pencil on paper, mirrors, and tripod; 63 x 48 in. each, overall dimensions variable. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    “We believe we are simply seeing depth rather than constructing depth out of two flat images. So, again, it’s both about the phenomenon and the wow factor—but more about the agency we have, whether we like it or not, to make sense of the world.” —William Kentridge

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    William Kentridge. Double Canna, 2004, installation view from Seeing Double, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2008. Two drawings with charcoal and colored pencil on paper, mirrors, and tripod; 63 x 48 in. each, overall dimensions variable. Copyright and courtesy of William Kentridge.

    “On the one hand it’s the pleasure of the optical illusion if you think you recognize what you’re seeing but it’s something completely different. But it’s also about chaos, which we somehow force into a pattern of coherence in terms of how we have to make sense of the world. There’s a kind of narrative drive—not a will to recognize but an inability not to recognize—that we are stuck with and saved by.” —William Kentridge