Interview with William Kentridge

In your works dating to the period of the apartheid in South Africa, you very often have described these situations in a very moving and politically intense way. If I try to find description of today’s situation in South Africa in your work I have difficulties to identify these. How can we understand your more recent work from this point of view?Kentridge: First I would say, in the more practical day to day life, it has not changed too much for the poor and the very poor, so you may apply the earlier works also to today’s situation.

Secondly today’s situation is more oblique. We have to find ways to describe it ourselves. Therefore the recent works are rather comparing situations such as Russia 1930, or Mozart’s magic flute on enlightment, or the work of black box. These are rather associations than descriptions.

On the other hand I also work very often on tracking back my process of associations and I try to represent this process in work as well.


How do you experiment? Can you tell us something on your creative process?

Kentridge: the very important principle is that of transformation. For instance I am interested in representing a two dimensional figure in a three dimensional sculpture which again can be seen as a two dimensional picture (see video).

A second very important process is combining different elements. For instance in the same example or above I started with a set of drawings and checked out different possibilities of combining them, for instance the globe and the cross, the bird and the face and others. Experimenting with different combinations brings about new forms and images.

It is also the transformation of material, from ink into metal, from metal into film, a drawn bird into a real bird…

By doing this in set of images I very much like to work with these sets, building up a grammar of images.


Do you use old books and newspapers as well as old machines in order to bring in history or is it for opening up more fantasy?

Kentridge: I started using old newspapers and books as scrap paper because it is cheaper, you don’t have to take care whether I spoil it or not and these papers have already a wonderful texture, I don’t have to prepare the surface. The machines are also a transformation of the drawings in my films and collage work. It all has to do with transformation and metamorphosis.


Would you say something on the roots of your art work, the way from where the specific “William Kentridge World” developed?

Kentridge: Maybe I have learned it from the two secular rabbis, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, from their Jewish traditional literacy.


Mr. Kentridge, many thanks for this interview.


The interview with William Kentridge and Wolf Werdigier took place at the artist’s studio at Maboneng, Johannesburg on January 15th 2013.

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