William Kentridge | Drawing Lesson Four: Practical Epistemology: Life in the Studio


Good afternoon, everyone, and
welcome to the fourth drawing lesson by William Kentridge. I’m Maria Gough,
and I teach here in history of art
and architecture. Before we begin, we have a few
gentle reminders from our host, [? Hami Baba. ?] The first is that next
week, the Norton lecture will be held on Monday rather
than the usual Tuesday. So that’s Monday, April 16,
but still at the regular time of 4:00 PM. The second is that on that same
Monday, April 16, the Harvard film archive will host a
screening of Mr Kentridge’s films. This will commence at 7:00 PM
and will be followed by a Q&A with him. That screening of films at
the Harvard film archive will then be repeated on Sunday,
April the 22nd, at 5:00 PM but without the Q&A.
The third reminder is that Mr. Kentridge will field
your questions about today’s lecture and indeed
all the lectures on Monday, April the 23rd, at
7:30 PM in Emerson hall 105. So let me begin
with the zoom lens through which Mr. Kentridge
has constructed his Norton lectures so far. In number two, he presented
the continent of Africa as the given, the
parameter, the frame for a polemical reflection
on the history of colonialism as the history of
enlightenment as domination. As we learned, this
was the reflection that drove his 2005 staging
of Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” In number three last week, he
narrowed his parameter or frame to a single city in Africa,
that of Johannesburg, where he was born and
raised and lives and works and where he produced in
the late ’80s and ’90s under and after apartheid
an extraordinary corpus of drawings for projection about
which Rosalind [? Kraus ?] has written so eloquently. This afternoon, Mr. Kentridge
narrows his frame once again, this time to a single
location within that city– the enclosed world
of his own studio. Of course, there is a sense
in which the studio is where we have been all along
these past few weeks, since it is there that the
artist makes palpable over and over again one of
the central arguments of these lectures, which
is that rationality is not the nature of reason
but rather just one of the forms it can take. But in today’s lecture,
which is entitled “Practical Epistemology– Life in the Studio,” Mr.
Kentridge shifts our attention from our conception of
the studio as a site and [NON-ENGLISH] of his
aesthetic deliberation to something rather
more specific– a full grounding of the studio
itself as subject matter in its own right. The studio as such
is an enduring tapas within the history
of art and one which Mr. Kentridge has
been concerned for decades but perhaps most explicitly in
the ensemble of film fragments that he made in
2003 as a tribute to the French early film
artist, vaudevillian, and magician Georges Melies. The genesis of this ensemble
they and a concerted effort to avoid a priori
or advance ideation in favor of either chance
occurrence or habitual circumstance. The task Mr.
Kentridge set himself was to wander around his studio
waiting for something to happen and, if something did
happen, to respond to it, thereby unfolding the
work out of the material life of the studio itself. For example, one piece appears
to show a galaxy of stars twinkling in the night sky. This moving image
had its origins in the artist’s
response to a plague of ants that beset the Kentridge
household that summer to which he responded by pouring
[? arabesques ?] of sugar on the ground, conscripting
his tiny visitors into aesthetic labor and
thereby inventing a new medium– drawing with ants,
as he later put it. In another fragment, a
shiny Bialetti espresso pot and its accompanying
porcelain demitasse, the equipment of arguably
the most important ritual of daily life became
his chief protagonists. Incorporating live action
footage of himself performing in the studio, Mr.
Kentridge pays direct homage to Melies’s filming
of his performances in his studio in Paris
more than a century ago. If there remains here also a
faint residue of his enthusiasm for the American artist
Bruce Norman’s affectless, task-oriented performances
in his studio films of the late ’60s and
early ’70s, that residue is all but transformed by
an editing process that incorporates a panoply of
vintage special effects such as dissolves, double
exposures, reversal of time, and reversals from positive
to negative in a bid to recreate something like the
early filmic magic of Melies. Screened simultaneously
and looping continuously in a single otherwise
pitch black gallery, the nine pieces of the ensemble
create an immersive space of seemingly endless
enchantment and wonder. But the preponderance
of metamorphoses throughout Mr.
Kentridge’s overall, all those Bodems and Bialettis
turning into mine shafts and rocket ships,
is about something more than the proliferation
of magical transformations to the enthralling
spectacle of which we as viewers readily
succumb like ants to irresistible
arabesques of sugar. On the contrary,
Mr. Kentridge wants to foreground the very
processes by which we see to make us more
conscious of the very mechanisms and operations and,
indeed, deceptions through which we construct
meaning in the world. Certainly, this is one of the
ambitions of his long standing engagement with now obsolete
pre-cinematic technologies and optical devices such as the
phenakistiscope, the zoetrope, the stereoscope, and
anamorphic diction about which [INAUDIBLE] he
will speak this afternoon. Please join me in welcoming
William Kentridge. In the autumn of 1786,
an English designer of theatrical sets,
Philip James [INAUDIBLE],, opened a theater in
London in the Drury Lane called the [INAUDIBLE] in
which the only performers were the painted sets themselves. Using [? gauzes, ?] scrims,
lighting, changing lights, a series of different
scenic effects would be achieved and shown. We would see the eruption
of Mount Vesuvius. You could see dawn and
sunset over Naples, the candlelit palace
of Versailles, the destruction of
the city of Gomorrah. And people would come and
sit in the darkened theater to watch these metamorphoses. And cinema can be
described as a continuation of these performances
of transformation. And the 19th
century had a series of such performances usually
seen in variety theaters and in Vaudeville performances. So first of all, there
was shadography in which the performer would
use their hands to make different shadows. And you would see a
bird, a butterfly. You’d see an old woman
using the fourth finger and the first finger
to make the nose and the chin and the right
hand to make her hat. And what you were
doing when watching these performances of the
shadographers were two things. You were watching the
narrative story that would unfold between
the different shadows, and you were watching the
transformation, the skill of the hands, and
the transformation into shadows on the
screen behind you. Then there was
[INAUDIBLE],, which is a different kind of
performance of transformation in which there would be a
performance artist whose metier was taking a felt
hat and bending it into different shapes. It would be a fisherman’s
hat, and then it could be bent into Napoleon’s
tricorn and then into a bonnet. And again, it was the
dexterity and the skill of the performer that held
the audience watching it. Then there were also
quick change artists in which you would have a
person on stage and a screen. And the person would
start as a dandy. They’d move behind
the screen and emerge on the other side as a tramp. And here the skill and the
magic was the unbelievable speed with which these transformations
would be achieved. That [INAUDIBLE]
inconceivable that somebody could change and transform
themselves so quickly. And then there were
stage magicians, who would combine the hand
and the skill of the hand and the speed of the
hand of the shadographers together with the technical
effect of the [INAUDIBLE] to achieve a series
of transformations of disappearances. A handkerchief can turn
into a dove, a rabbit into a bunch of flowers. Now these performers
are all working both with and against time. In the [INAUDIBLE],, we have
the speeding up of time. Something that takes two hours,
the sunset over Naples, gets speeded up into a
minute and a half. So the world is spun
faster on its axis. But the stage
magician is working with and against the
time of the audience. So you have a hand
drops a glove into a hat and, in the same moment,
pulls out a goose. Now inside the hat
itself, everything is speeded up because you’ve
got to open the trapdoor. You’ve got to drop the gloves. You’ve got to feel for
the neck of the goose. You’ve got to pull goose up,
close the trapdoor in the hat, and then pull it out. All the time the
speed is going on, the appearance has
to be that it’s as gentle as the waving
left hand of the performer. And in the late 1880s
and the early 1890s, Georges Méliés was one
such stage magician. And in the 1890s, he
started using films in his theatrical performances. They were initially
simply one out of several different
performances, magic tricks, performances of transformation. And the most complicated
changes, the most astonishing disappearances,
changes in scale, disembodiments could be done by
simply stopping time, adjusting the world, and allowing
time to continue. An action could be filmed
and then the action stopped and the camera stopped. The actor goes
behind the screen. And then when the
camera is stopped, there’s time for the most
elaborate and leisurely of costume changes. The dandy disappears
behind the screen. Then the camera
is started again, and he emerges now as a lion
tamer with six cardboard lions at his side. And when projected, the
time, the period out of time is obviously invisible. And you have the seamless
movement and transformation. And most of the 500
films that Méliés made, 500 films in the first two
years of discovering cinema, were explorations. And more than
explorations– there were celebrations
of these new found prowesses of transformation. He said, I will show you a
man who can take his head off. I will show you a man
with a head that can be inflated like a rubber ball. I can show you a playing card
that will come alive on stage. I can show you a suitcase
that contains not just a piano but a whole room of furniture–
not just a room of furniture but a whole family sitting at
a dining room table and people serving them food and
then put everything back– the family, the
piano, the furniture– back into the suitcase with only the
bottles left in Melies’s studio to prove that it
actually had happened. Melie’s films were all
made in the studio– himself as performer in front
of his painted backdrops. And this is where we
locate ourselves today– in the studio. As Maria Gough
summarized so clearly, the [? route ?] we have
come to today’s lecture. In the first lecture,
we were looking at making sense
of the projections inside the Cave of Plato. In the second lecture,
we were extending the look at the
Enlightenment, at its shadow, and also looking at photographic
positives and negatives of a way of understanding
“The Magic Flute” and of thinking about
the Enlightenment. In the third lecture, we came
down to Johannesburg as city and also talking about what
it is to project onto a map– the human imagination
as a form of projection. And here, we arrive from
the city of Johannesburg down into the studio. I referred to the
cinema of Georges Melies and his films made
in the studio. And again, I would
like to start today with a projection of
a film against which to set the reflections
that follow in the rest of the lecture. And the film we will
look at is a version I made of George Melie’s
film Journey to the Moon. The film is 6 and
1/2 minutes long. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] [END PLAYBACK] The mid 19th century
invention of photography turned time into stone. The first steps in
photography relied on fixed, unmoving objects. Slow chemicals held
slow exposures. And so the camera
had to hold something in its gaze for minutes
for it to be imprinted on the silver coated glass. Rocks, buildings, streets
could be congealed. But objects in
movement could best be detected as
ghosts, disturbances in the solid
objects behind them. Only the unmoving shoe
polisher and his client or a man asleep on a city
bench could force their way onto the glass. An image had to sediment
itself until the photograph was thick with time. Portraits were made with
a sitter’s head in a clamp so that the head would not move
while the photographic plates slowly absorbed that image– so that the chemical fossil
of the image could happen and the plates slowly absorb
that which was in front of it. And the development of moving
photography, or cinema, at the end of the
19th century made an examination of this
congealed time possible. That which was
filmed and on a real could be made to pass again. We could watch the
movement again and again. And more than that, the
strip of successive images could be looked at
backwards, and time could be held to account. I filmed the flight of
a bird and then reversed the projection, and I can
see how the flight begins in the first spring of the legs
and the first awkward spread of the wings. History contained
in a roll of film can be looked at backwards
and actions taken back to the first causes. An action done can be undone. A tear forward becomes
a repair backwards. You can make a palindrome of
an action and its anti-action– an action half-completed,
half-repealed. We make Rorschach
lots of intentions half-made, half-taken back. I start to say something, and
I take it back as if I could [TALKING BACKWARDS]
as if I could swallow [TALKING BACKWARDS],,
as if I could swallow what I had just said. [TALKING BACKWARDS] That’s not what I meant. [TALKING BACKWARDS] that’s
not what I meant at all. Now in the studio, I
filmed my 8-year-old son. He takes a jar of paint,
a handful of pencils, some books, some papers. He throws the jar of paint
across the studio wall. He scatters the pencils. He tears the paper and
scatters the shards. We run the film in reverse. And there is a
Utopian perfection. The papers
reconstruct themselves perfectly every time. He gathers them all. He catches 12 pencils all
arriving from different parts of the room at the same moment. In the jar, he
catches all the paint. Not a single drop is spilt.
The wall is pristine. And his joy at his own
skill is overflowing. [INAUDIBLE],, can I
do it again, he asks? And I said, yes, you can. But first, we have
to clean the studio, pick up the paper
and the pencils, clean the paint off the wall,
and then we can do it again. His delight in discovering
his power to remake the world was a delight in discovering
that he was more than he knew. At any rate, it was a
discovery of prowess, not a demonstration of it. The film revealed to him things
about himself and the world rather than the film
simply demonstrating something he already knew. And this giving
over to the medium is crucial, [? this ?] allowing
a space for the medium to lead, giving yourself over
to the play itself– play not in the sense of
knowing the rules in advance and following them
like in a sport but play in the sense
of light on water, the play of light on water– not a random activity
but giving yourself over to what the activity
provokes and suggests and then following
these possibilities as assiduously as you can and
as assiduously as you would follow the rules of any game. They are irrational,
ad hoc constraints followed rigorously, following
a metaphor back to its surface rather than going forth
from sense and hunting for the metaphor. So discovering the Utopian
nature of reversals is a starting point. And then the following
of that provocation, the discovering of the rules of
the game and the mastery of it, is a separate activity. So I walk backwards, OK? I walk backwards. When I reverse it,
my lean is wrong. I can feel it. Lean feels wrong. So I have to try
a different lean. I walk backwards again
leaning forwards, which feels very awkward. But then when the
camera runs forward, it becomes a natural walk. I lean forwards, an
unnatural action, to make a natural illusion
of walking forwards. Now this is the
work of the studio– a constant filming, performing,
reviewing, rewinding, checking, trying to find what
it is in the reversal that we need to make
the illusion, to make the natural forward movement– walking and filming,
leaning at different angles, testing it out when the
impulse has to come, before the movement,
just after the movement, seeing how one can
pause and advance, doing a series of ad
hoc slow motion dances to try to find the logic of
something that has begun. I take a book, and
I throw the book. Now do I pause before the throw,
or do I pause after the throw so that when the book
returns, I am anticipating it? Or does the book
arrive of itself? Again, the book throwing has to
be done in many different times and in many different ways. And this activity becomes the
engine work of the studio– a series of irrational
activities, ad hoc decisions, followed with as much
assiduity as possible– trying to find from the
action, from the repetition of the action, what the
rules of the game are and how best to play it. Now there seem to be three
different elements here. There is something to be seen– the firming of the boy
in reverse, number one. That is the first element. Then the metaphoric
suggestions from this, the Utopian perfectability
of the world in reverse, is the second element. And the learning
of the grammar, how to perform it, how to
complete and enlarge on the possibilities,
is the third element. The idea itself is never enough. It is its achievement
that is the question– the rehearsal, the
refilming, the relooking, learning how to film
the final shot– a process of making and looking. But now a fourth thing appears. Remember, we’ve gone from
the outside event, filming the sun backwards, to
the second element, which is the metaphoric
suggestions of it, to the third, which is the
perfections of the action to make the
metaphoric part clear. And the fourth element
is what happens during the learning
of the process, in the rehearsing, the undoing,
the redoing of those actions. And that is the new
set of possibilities that emerge while performing
the repeated actions, the expansion of the ideas. So we start with walking
backwards and forwards. This suggests already catching
and throwing the books backwards and forwards, which
suggests a writing backwards and forwards. Imagine a page of text
that is sucked back inside the belly of
the pen so in the end, you have your pen as a loaded
weapon with all possibilities. And all the text is taken
back to potentiality. And then the question of
potentiality and its loss and the question of regret
becomes a third theme, another theme which sits on top. Now here we are talking about
a trust placed in the physical. that through the physical
material and techniques– drawing, filming, walking– new thoughts and new
images can emerge. About here being led by the
body rather than simply the mind ordering the body about– not random action but action,
rehearsal, performance prompted by the
discipline itself. We look at something
usually taken for granted– the
passage of time, the movement of the person. And in the studio, we
demand its deconstruction, its destruction, its shattering. Time is changed into the marked
gradations and small changes we do in a piece of animation. Learning the grammar
of this in the hope that we will come
across new ideas– the same thing happens
in performance. I referred in the first
lecture to those movements, those gestures, which appear
in between the words which are still part of the rhetoric
of their being spoken, those elements of speech
beyond speech itself. And we can look at this further. Now here, for example, are six
degrees of tension in a body. We can schematize them in text,
but it is clearer to see them and how they work. So we can have a first
degree of tension, which is no tension, the minimum
needed to stay on your feet. And with this tension, we
can find a breath, a voice, and a way of finding
this minimum tension. I mean, this what
I’m showing you is an exercise from
theater school that I [? lost it ?] in 1981. So we all take our chances here. But there is a second
degree of tension which is one of real relaxation
or looseness in the limbs. There’s a looseness
in the pelvis. There’s an easy way of talking,
an easy way of breathing that goes with it. It’s a very relaxed,
low tension. Now when we are working
on a performance, we can either start
with an analysis of the text, a rational
dissection of motives, a prehistory of the
psychology of each character, literary references, or we
can start from the practical, from the physical. The third degree of tension– neutral. I move because
I’m going to move. I stop. I talk. There’s no [? effect. ?]
There’s simply an action or a word completed. So here we’ve gone from level
one to a relaxed level two to a neutral level three. And we can learn them as
we would learn the scales. They’re something that can be
caught inside a muscle memory of people performing them. It’s something that
becomes internalized. We see it in ourselves, and
we can see it in other people. Now in level four,
we have more tension. We have purpose and impulse. I cross the stage because
I want to cross the stage. I want to make this clear. Can you hear the
difference in the voice? A connection should be made. We’re getting to the
heart of the matter. I want you to follow,
to recapitulate. OK, level one– level
two is familiar now. It’s very relaxed. Wada wada wada– we
can say what we like. Level there, there
is no emotion. It’s very clean. There are propositions–
x plus y equals 27. To level four where
I want to explain– I want to say that x is
usually 9 and y is usually 11– that her e level four,
we have an impulse, a push behind the movement. And then we can go to level
five, which is [NON-ENGLISH],, where every emotion is full,
full, full [INAUDIBLE].. No action or no thought is
neutral, as in level three. But where are we going
with the argument? We’re trying to
find a connection– a connection that
can come from leading the brain from the body,
of reversing and breaking the blood brain
barrier, emblematically here done in terms
of performance and moving on the stage. But in the same way, it’s
done when making a painting, when making a drawing,
when making an etching. So on level three, Plato– inevitably, yes. This is so. How could it be otherwise? I mean, this is a
stupid exercise. I admit it. I’m in level four. I admit this is a
stupid exercise. This is foolish. Level 3. Whatever, level two. This is nonsense from
A to Z, level five. But to get to sense, we have
to go through nonsense, four, to shake us out of
our complacency, five, to shake us out of
complicity, three. All right, this is
a stupid exercise done in rehearsals with actors
or with drawing students to show the way body
can lead to thought. There is a level six, which
corresponds to no theater, to the extreme tension in
the body of breath and voice, which I’m not going to attempt. Now in theatrical
terms, this is a way of arriving at a character,
of finding the psychology, of finding the movement,
the breath, the voice– a way of generating not just a
performance but an interaction. If you place an
actor who will not leave level three with someone
who will not leave level five, you already have a comedy. Make one character shift
between level five and level two and you have a
dog-loving demagogue– not just “The Great
Dictator” of Chaplin but the great dictator in
the films of Hitler himself. I mean, Stalin’s
voice in recordings is always at level two,
which is all the more terrifying for the
gentleness of the voice and the gap between that
and the actions behind it. Now where are we at this point? We are in the studio with
a camera, a roll of film, the performer playing the
different levels of tension, the world running
backwards, and looking outside the camera at what these
things, this action, provokes– looking at the change from
physical action into thought– at this point of transfer
where a kind of reverse osmosis happens, where the action
is impulse to the thought. And there is another
history of cinema which can be written in terms
of technologies of looking, different kinds of pre-cinematic
machines for looking which end up with cinema but
which also are about the agency and nature of seeing. Now let us look at five such
technologies in the studio– the stereoscope,
the phenakistiscope and all other
types of zoetropes, the anamorphic mirror,
the [? clawed ?] glass, and the etching press. Each of these is a
pre-cinematic device which takes an element
of how we see, removes it from the world of
naturalized, invisible vision, turns it into a material
object, producing, in the end, a reconfigured seeing, changing
both our sense of the world and our sense of self. In its most basic sense, a
stereoscope brings our eyes in front of our head. In the century since
[? Alberti ?] and his treatise on vanishing point perspective,
painting and image making have been a monocular activity,
turning a three dimensional world into a two dimensional
surface and then finally every way, from vanishing point
perspective to desaturating different planes
of color as they get further away, every
manner to try to recreate an illusion of depth. And stereoscopes,
which developed at about the same
time as photography the middle of the 19th
century, are about the nature of binocularity. Biologically, we
are all predators with a narrow field of
vision but an ability to see depth as opposed to prey
that have wide angle of vision but bad depth perception. To recapitulate from basics,
we see everything twice. Right eye and left eye
see two separate images. And each of which– each image obeys the
[? Albertian ?] rules of single point perspective. Right eye, left eye– close one eye, close the
other eye, and images change their relative
positions to us. Close one eye and
the image jumps. The two images are then
combined in our brain to make the illusion,
an image, of the world with depth that we move through
and that we take for granted. Every moment, we effortlessly
combine these two images. And this invisible double
vision is what it is to see. Two different photographs
taken three inches apart, approximately the
width of our eyes, the distance between our eyes. Two flat images you can hold. You can touch their flatness. It’s clear they’re
just photographs. But looked at through a
stereoscopic viewer which converge and magnifies
the viewer in the image, we enter a strange world. The image is doubled– the two photographs,
two images, overlapping. And you slide the image
closer and further and wait. And then there is a
clear, discernible moment of transformation. The two become not just
one image but a door into a different space. You’re no longer looking at
a photograph of World War I but are invited into
the mud and the debris. Again, we can list the elements. The stereoscopic viewer has
blocked off peripheral vision. It has magnified the images. Our focus is kept
on the photograph. We look not across
the photograph as one would look across a
picture surface but into it. And our eyes have
to do the work. They have to focus at
different distances. They have to converge
and separate, to line up the different
elements in the two photographs. We have to activate
the photograph itself. But most importantly,
what we usually perceive as being natural
becomes conscious. We are aware of our construction
of this illusion of three dimensions. The brain becomes a muscle
working to combine these two images, and you can
feel the pressure, the work your brain
does to suddenly achieve a moment of convergence
of the two images. And that pleasure is again our
pleasure at self-deception, of the transformation
of what we know to be two flat
images into what we know to be a false image
of three dimensions. And it’s also
something that we sense that we– you can feel
it in your own brain that you have done this. We are actively
making the seeing. In the stereoscopic,
but of course in all seeing that we do, we
are active participants in the construction of depth. And the stereoscopic
here becomes a machine for demonstrating seeing. Now zoetropes, praxinoscopes,
phenakistiscopes are all variations of machines
for creating illusions of continuous movement. Through different techniques
of revealing and concealing image of an action in
successive stages of completion either using two
rotating disks as in a phenakistiscope or a
rotating drum with slits in it, we take a clearly
still image and are shown its transformation
not from flatness to depth as in the stereoscope but
from stillness to motion. So I film myself walking. And I photographed the action
24 times at different stages. Filmed the lean
forward, the foot hitting the ground, the foot
leaning forward, leaning forward towards the
chair, lifting the foot, missing the back of the
chair, the foot going into the air stepping forward,
the back foot lifting up– a series of still
photographs of the activity of walking over the chair. Now if I was simply to
pull these photographs in front of our eyes, they
would simply become a blur. But if we have a way of freezing
the image briefly, showing the next one again
still, either using a shutter and the
claw of a projector or the slits of
a zoetrope, which have the effect of a shutter,
we have a figure in motion we can make a man
climbing over the chair. –23, and 37. 18, 23, and 34 seconds. 18, 23, and 38 seconds. 18– Now these machines are all
circular, an action ending where it began, so that we
can look at the spinning disk not once but see
what appears to be a continuous, cyclical movement. There are zoetropes of people
rowing, of people skipping. In this case, the man
steps over the chair. The man– 18. –steps over the chair. We come to the beginning, and
again, he steps over the chair. 17, 34, and 2 seconds. 4 seconds. 7 seconds. 10 seconds. And we have a double
revelation here. The primary one, again,
is of the brain as muscle during the work of
turning stillness into movement, of making that
which seems natural become a product of our own agency. and secondly with the specifics
of zoetropes, the specificity of the actual material, of
the material of this machine, we observe our
seeing through them. We are aware that
we are at the start and continuation of a movement. They all involve rotation– coming back to where we began
only to start the action again. The man climbs over the chair. No sooner has he done it
than another chair appears. No sooner has that chair
appear than the next one comes. 59 seconds. One minute. This is not at the heart of
the zoetrope, but it brings– what it brings with it. The idea is produced
by the material. It produces that at the
edge of a narrative, hoping that this
time, something new will happen, that he’ll
trip, that another chair– that someone will
take the chair away. But each time, he’s destined
to perform the same action, continuing over the chair. Now the pressure for the
protagonist to escape his fate, to be able to escape the
magnetic field of the zoetrope, to leave the circular orbit,
to somehow outrun his fate– we start with a visual
biological mechanical effect, but we end with more. There is always more
than the primary effect. And the invitation in the
studio is to follow that more– what is in the zoetrope,
what is in the shadows, what is in the landscape– to follow all the
possible routes out of the studio and
out of the cave. The repetition in the
zoetrope is important, and repetition in the
studio is important– the zoetrope and trying
to escape the zoetrope. I write a list of phrases
for these lectures, and the list is repeated– a list of points in the
lecture as it is written, the history of cinema, the
history of cinema number two, drawing with one eye shut,
performances of transformation, [INAUDIBLE],, the
syllogism of printing, the illuminating shadow, running
backwards, [TALKING BACKWARDS],, as if I could. And I repeat this list
four or five times in different notebooks. Each time– and the
repetition of the phrases returning as if they
are stuck in a zoetrope. Each time, I expect my
list of subjects and titles and topics for the
lectures to change. And each time,
they stay the same. But in the reordering, the
slight shift, the eligibility of one word, we
make some new crack, and some new element can enter. And this is what we
are always waiting for. This repetition is
also in drawing. So I make a drawing, a portrait. It’s done twice. I do it thrice,
and the repetition does not improve the likeness. Each time, there is an
allowance for the arm to lead, to let the movement of the
hand to do the looking, as if the muscles of
the hand, the wrist, the arm know what the face
looks like, which they don’t. So the drawings are assembled. And then the
drawings are torn up. I tear down across the
hairline, across the nose, do a tear which separates
the mouth from the mustache, and reconfigure them. The eyes too far apart are
brought slightly closer. The mustache from
drawing number three matches the mouth for
drawing number four. And the moving hand
and the recognizing I take over the work. The work that the
brain does, which we can feel in the coalescing
of the two stereoscopic images into one image, has a
similarity to the physical work in the studio. The moving of the sticks,
the pieces of charcoal, the mirrors, the ink– the physical action
is both a provocation of the mental action, but it is
also a metaphoric description of that action. In the corner of the studio,
there is an etching press. And this has a double
set of associations. On the one hand,
domestic and intimate– there is the bed of the printing
press covered by blankets made of thick felt. That is to
protect the sheet, the sheet of paper under the blanket. And under the blankets
on top of the sheet, we tried to make sense of
the open bite, the foul bite, the spit bite, the drive
point, the hard ground. There’s an entire
erotics of etching which has an
essential sensuousness to the process itself. There’s a gentle dabbing
on of the soft ground with the [? shimmy ?]
leather dabber. The bubbles in the acid
are removed with a feather. The ink is wiped off on
the palm of your hand. The dampness of
the paper is felt with the back of your hand. But an etching press is also
a primitive machine for logic. A plate is prepared. This is the proposition. Through acid, through
engraving, through Buren marks, drypoint scratches,
the printings with the dot of an [INAUDIBLE],,
the smooth surface of the plate is disturbed. We ink the plate and
wipe off the excess ink. And it goes through
the bed of the press– the sheet of paper, the blanket. And this layered collection–
the blanket, the paper, the copper, the
bed of the press– passes through the rollers
of the press and the paper pressed into the plate. On the other side of the
roller, the blanket is removed, and we have a proof. And a proof is the record of all
the damage done to the plate. If the proof does
not hold out, then we have to alter the proposition
the plate must be reworked, sent back through the rollers
to reveal a new proof. One thinks of all the reworking
of the plates of Picasso, the reworking of the three
crosses of Rembrandt. With each state, the proposition
altered to produce a new proof and so on until the
final proof is accepted, given a forensic stamp of
approval, BAT, [NON-ENGLISH].. And the pressure at the
center of this process, the meeting of the two
rollers– one above the blanket, the other below the bed of
the press and the [? Felton ?] blanket– is an invisible
moment hidden by the blankets themselves and stands for the
moment of transformation– the artist as maker on
one side and as observer on the other side of the press. And the best master
printer is a mediator in the center between
the two people. It is also a transformation of
the image from copper to paper and the transformation of one
image into its mirror reversal. But behind this, there
is another layer– of separation between the
artist and the secondary of the objectified print. The drawing on the plate
is external to the artist. But the print itself has
a different independence, strengthened by the fact or the
possibility of multiplicity. And the etching and
other prints are all about the possibility
of multiplicity, about a private impulse
becoming a public opinion. Another optical
device for making us conscious of ourselves as
a [? Claude ?] glass, named after the French landscape
painter as if using the glass could turn us all into
Claude [INAUDIBLE].. A well polished etching
plate becomes a mirror. Hold up the plate, and you
see reflected in it a slice or a rectangle of
the world behind you. Close one eye, and the image
becomes a two dimensional image on the surface of the plate. Adjust your position,
your arm, for the plate, and the image is reframed. Hold the plate still
and your eyes still, and you can transcribe
the image directly onto the plate with
a dry point needle. And the body becomes a
crude mechanical camera. The copper becomes the
photographic plate. The stillness of the hand,
of the plate and its relation to the eye, are what are needed
to turn the body into a camera. The stillness of the arm
and the plate are crucial. And this is what reduces
the infinity of reflections into the one specific image. Now on the studio in
the corner on the table scans a cylindrical mirror. Under the cylindrical mirror,
we place a circular sheet of paper. The paper is reflected
in the mirror. Draw a line on the paper,
and it is reflected distorted in the mirror. A straight line drawn becomes
a parabola in the mirror. To draw what appears to be a
straight line in the mirror, we have to draw a particular
curve on the sheet of paper. It’s counter-intuitive
drawing– not allowing the hand to make the familiar
gestures of a lifetime of how to make a shape. To make an image we recognize
as familiar in the mirror, we have to take an elongated
distortion in the drawing. We draw a rough line
concentric to the edge of the sheet of paper. In the mirror, we
see a horizon line. The image in the mirror
becomes a landscape. Brush some charcoal
dust, and we have a cloud of dust in the foreground. This is straightforward. Let it be said there is a great
pleasure in this relearning how to draw, in constructing
distorted images in the surface of a corrected
image in the mirror. But there are other
transformations. Where does the landscape sit? Close an eye, and
the landscape is on the surface of the mirror. Open both eyes, and the
landscape floats and gathers at different depths. It’s not an illusory
depth of field from faint distant
mountains but a real depth. The image is somewhere
behind the mirror– not on a flat plain like the
drawing but occupying space. The different parts
of the image we have to focus on at
different focal distances. Our eyes have to adjust to
different focal distances. From one position fixed, the
mirror looks like a rectangle. But we can circle the mirror
and the paper reflection, and the image does
not come to an end. And we are in a zoetrope. There are further secondary
anomalies and extensions. We can see 50% of the
mirror, half of the cylinder. But the mirror itself can see
85% of the sheet of paper. There is an apparent
distortion in the mirror, a dislocation between the mirror
and the drawing it reflects. And again, we are
complicit in constructing the image, in transforming the
distorted drawing on the paper into the illusion of a
recognizable coherence received from the mirror and
in seeing unavoidably that our relation, the physical
one, to the image in the mirror is central to its existence. And then we see
the more the extra, that the mirror brings to it,
and we understand the world as a carousel that
cannot be escaped, another kind of zoetrope. You’re aware of a
circularity circling the mirror and its image. And the image shifts
backwards and forwards through the invisible
space at the center of the cylindrical mirror. I walk around the studio, the
studio as a kind of zoetrope. And I walk past the
side of the table. I go to the stepladder. I circle the camera. I go to the washbasin. I go past the balcony,
past the table, turn round, and reverse
the journey for 10 minutes, for an hour, this walking
around, around the studio, trying to gather the floating
fragments, the images on the walls of the studio,
the ideas that are floating in the air, to find the
starting point for the drawing, for the sentence– trying to get the fragments
to pull together, to cohere, feeling the pressure for
coherence the relationship of the history of cinema
to the making of images in the studio– becomes a kind of zoetrope. Of thinking. Well, I know that the ideas
and images of will only clarify themselves in the
physical action of making the work– the charcoal on the paper,
the ink in the book– but unable to stop the walk. Sometimes stuck while
walking around the studio– stuck in a loop, in a loop
of a phrase that just goes round and round in one’s head. So you walk around the studio,
and it’s– what do you say? Truth is beauty– beauty, truth. Truth is beauty– beauty, truth. Truth is beauty. There’s beauty in the
bellow of the blast. There’s beauty in the
bellow of the blast. Truth is beauty– beauty, truth. Truth is beauty– beauty– oh death, where is thy sting– oh grave, thy victory. Truth is beauty– beauty, truth. Stuck inside the zoetrope,
stuck inside the zoetrope. And the studio has
become the zoetrope. And the repetitive
action cannot be escaped, knowing that the activity is
both avoiding the question of how to actually make
the drawing or to write the sentence but
is also essential– a productive procrastination. And after 400 circuits, the man
will finally escape his loop. He will finally stop having
to climb over the chair. Now a walk without
destination has a long and an honorable history. From the ambulatory
of the cloisters, which was a walk
around a courtyard, to the promenades of
aristocratic estates, to the [INAUDIBLE] of post
[INAUDIBLE] conversation in 19th century
Bourgeois cities, there’s something in
the action of falling, of catching yourself
from falling, and repeating the action– left foot and then the
right foot and then back to the beginning again–
left foot to the right foot. Something about the
zoetrope-like repetition of walking that is
productive of thinking. It becomes a truce between
the artist as maker and the artist as observer. The walk encompasses
both elements– images pinned to the wall, not
looked at head on, but seen peripherally, sideways,
prods from the sideline– the books on the table with the
notes for the lecture visible though not clearly
legible but sending out waves of attraction
and repulsion, reminding the artist of
that which must be tackled– a walk which becomes the
prehistory to a drawing. Now what is thought turned
into action and action provoking the thought– how to put the different
ideas, the different images and fragments together
and, parallel to that, a thinking in material. There are two things
which go on here– thinking about to work
with the torn paper, to work with charcoal, to take
the image that I’d worked on yesterday to continue
working on it, a magnetism of different
materials and objects on the walls and
shelves of the studio, hoping to heat things up, hoping
that one can make a collision between the material
and an idea. And there are, in
fact, two figures walking, going in
opposite directions, trying to make sense
of holding time to the world of the
studio, how to squeeze an insight from the
rock of stuck thought, circling the idea the other
self in opposite direction. [INAUDIBLE] a hand
reaching for paper, a 17 meter walk in the
studio, 14 centimeters– [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – For reasons
unknown, [INAUDIBLE] –what the facts
are and considering which is more grave. In the light of labor’s
lost of [? Steinwig ?] and [? Petermann, ?] it
appears what is much more grave in the light of [? Petermann, ?]
in the light of the plains, of the mountains, by the
seas, by the rivers– [INAUDIBLE] this collision. Circuits speeding up, trying
to find a particular collision to let all the elements
reach a critical heat, becoming a lion tamer,
[INAUDIBLE] in the studio. The metaphors extending– – Given the existence as uttered
forth in the public works of [INAUDIBLE] and [? Kraus, ?]
of a personal god [INAUDIBLE] with a great white
beard [INAUDIBLE].. The camera becomes a place– – I resume. I resume. My [INAUDIBLE] on short
on that abode of stones, who can doubt I will resume? Not so [? fast. ?] I resume the
skull to [? shrink ?] and waste and concurrently given– The walls of the
studio, the inside of the studio speeding up,
trying to [INAUDIBLE] elements of the different
parts of the studio. – With a great
white [INAUDIBLE].. The necessary stupidity, the
[INAUDIBLE] to draw an orbit of the stars, seeing what things
can provoke an idea that– – [INAUDIBLE] Two surfing men–
the two surfing men, of course, Vladimir
and [INAUDIBLE].. – Nothing to be done. – I’m beginning to come
around to that view myself. All my life, I’ve tried
to put it from me saying, Vladimir, be reasonable. You haven’t tried everything. And I resumed the struggle. So there you are again. – Am I? – May I inquire where his
highness spent last night? – In a ditch. – A ditch? Where? – Over there. – And didn’t they beat you? – Beat me. Certainly, they beat– – The same lot as usual? – Same? I don’t know. – When I think of
all these years– but for me, where would you be? – Stop blathering and help me
off with this bloody thing. – You’d be nothing other
than a little heap of bones at the present minute,
no doubt about– – I am taking off my boot. – What are you doing? – That never happened. – Boots must be
taken off every day. I’m tired of telling you that. Help me. – Why don’t you listen to me? It hurts, hurts. He wants to know if– – No one ever suffers but you. I don’t count. I’d like to hear what you had
to say if you had what I have. – It’s too much for one man. [END PLAYBACK] To locate where we
are in the studio, trying to parse
the specific nature and activity of
the studio, which can be characterized as making
a safe space for uncertainty, a safe space for stupidity– and this necessary
stupidity is not the same as foolishness or the
innocence of the pure fool made wise through compassion. It is not the fool with
license to talk truth to power. It is not simple
naivete elevated. Rather, it is making a
space for uncertainty– for giving an impulse,
an object, a material the benefit of the doubt– following the impulses that feel
stupid without a destination, believing that at some point, we
will emerge from our zoetrope. It’s more than this. It’s a repression of evaluating
in advance of the action the value of the thought– allowing three rulers to be
glued together on a turntable– allowing the work with its
nonsense repeated mantras and words to take their time– allowing that which starts
as a whim to continue– to make a space for the
inauthentic starting point. The stupid work of the six
degrees of tension are there. A film is started without
a script or a storyboard. A day is spent
walking backwards, throwing encyclopedias
over your shoulder not in celebration
of stupidity itself but believing in it more than
in a studio of good ideas, of things worked out in advance
and then shot and executed– understanding and hoping and
believing not out of conviction but from experience that
from the physical making, from the very
imperfections of technique, the bad backwards walking, parts
of the world and parts of us are revealed that we neither
expected nor expressed until we saw them. Through the spaces opened by
the foolishness of themselves, the randomly torn pages,
the line and the parabola, we both enact and
see and celebrate our construction of the world. This is how I make a face. This is how we make a horse. This is how we see. And this is the work in
the space of the studio. Thank you.

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