as an example of a peculiar technique for animation

William Kentridge is an interdisciplinary south-African artist, who became well known in the beginning of the 90's for two main reasons:
1. - his conceptual approach and the political content of his work.
Cecilia Alemani, an international renowned curator, summarizes this first aspect affirming that: "Kentridge draws on the history of his country, South Africa, investigating memories of a troubled past, his place in the midst of a deeply divided people, and his personal identity as a white man in a country devastated by apartheid. (…) Kentridge explores the possibility of reconciliation after a lacerating history, he seeks ways to mourn the suffering of a hole nation, resuscitating personal and autobiographical memories, without ever falling into Manichean or simplistic ethical judgement." 1
2. - and, also, because he developed a unique technique for animation. Kentridge uses charcoal to build a first image that becomes the matrix for the next scene or image. The art critic Ruth Rosengarden describes this peculiar work process in the following way: "(…) Kentridge evolved a unique graphic technique of filmic animation in which objects and bodies are sketched in charcoal, partially rubbed out and re-emerge – transfigured – in a ceaseless flux of erasure and re-inscription.(…) it is the destiny of a single drawing to be gradually transformed, not only registering alternations of position,(…) A whole sequence is thus contained on a single sheet of paper (…)" 2. Subsequently, this technique became more complex when Kentridge added other video techniques as reverse-shooting effects and manipulated the grain of the film in post-production.

Using a poetic language we could say that the first sketch contains all the following necessary drawings to build a sequence of moving image. We could, as well, apply a very meaningful but out of date word: palimpsest. As Kentridge is one of those rare artists with great erudition, the choice of charcoal as a key material is not innocent or, merely due to a pragmatic choice (it is easy to erase), it is related with tradition. A very old Greek text reports that the first drawing ever made was done by a woman whose lover was a soldier called on duty, ready to go far away. The legend says that Butades' daughter captured the shadow of her lovers' profile using a charcoal.

The short animated video Automatic writing 3, from 2003, is a good example to describe this inedited technique. Within Kentridge's work, Automatic writing can be interpreted as an allegory of the intimate and fluid relation between narrating through image and/or words. In an interview with Dan Cameron4, W. Kentridge explains that the sequences reporting several successive transformations of words, numbers, isolated letters or sentences in other elements, work as a kind of ephemeral calligraphy associated with "automatic writing"; which is a good process to nurture creativity. Automatic writing was a common method used by the Dadaists and Surrealists' to produce poetry (write) or images (to draw). In the XIX century it was used by mediums to get in contact with spirits of the diseased; and also, as an instrument of psychoanalyses, since it easily allows the "user" to get in touch with his or her subconscious.

The content of Automatic writing is unmistakably self-referent in many levels and it can also be seen as an avowal implying the importance of his wife's Anne presence in the atelier5. William Kentridge explains the role played by this female figure: "(…)she gets drawn into the words and disappears again and drawn in to words and disappears again and the third or the fourth time it grows into me next to her. (…)she disappears back in to words and a self-portrait kind of representation is left at the table."6 Kentridge and Anne's silhouette are almost simultaneous drawn and even if, to produce the movement, most of the lines were (partially) erased, all the marks of this double-drawing were kept subtle and visible on the papers'/screen surface. It seems that she plays a more indefinable role than the conventional "muse"; Anne's presence in the atelier works as a metaphor for an emotional (complete?) inner-life, a powerful mediator between public and private space. Despite any other commentary concerning the heart or origin of Kentridges' work, he strongly affirms in many interviews that the starting point of all the work he has done is, always, "the desire to draw"7.

Isabel Baraona, 2010

1 ALEMANI, Cecilia – William Kentridge. Milão, Mondadori Electa s.p.a., 2006. Page 09
2 ROSENGARTEN, Ruth – Seven fragments for Georges Méliès and other Works by William Kentridge. Lisbon, Ed. Museu do Chiado – MNAC, 2005 page 39-40
3 Automatic Writing, video 177''. Edited by Catherine Meyburgh, music from Philip Miller, 2003. You can find it You tube under the link.
4 in Point of view, an anthology of the moving image (2003) 
5 Anne also appears in other works as for example Journey to the moon, 2003. Film 16 e 35 mm transfered to vídeo and mini-DVD. 7'10''. Edition Catherine Meyburg; Músic Philip Miller. Collection Museu do Chiado (Lisbon)
6 BREIDBACH, Angela e KENTRIDGE, William – thinking aloud. Koln, Walter Koning, 2006, page 99
7 ROSENGARTEN, Ruth – Seven fragments for Georges Méliès and other Works by William Kentridge. Lisbon, Ed. Museu do Chiado – MNAC, 2005 Page 37