Becoming Aware in a World of People on the Move

Gabriele Guercio



  1. The Tapestries

Since 2001, William Kentridge has completed a series of seventeen tapestries, each in multiple copies or versions. They originate in the artist’s collages of black silhouettes cut and glued over reproductions, mostly from nineteenth-century geographical atlases. The weavers then use a photograph of the collage as the basis for turning the image into tapestry. The tapestry series is the result of a successful collaboration between the artist and Marguerite Stephens and her workshop. Her tapestry studio, established in 1963 in Swaziland, promotes the significance of tapestry through technical excellence, the use of the hand-carded and-spun mohair grown in South Africa, and a careful rendering of the drawings supplied by artists. Interpreting and adapting Kentridge’s compositions, Stephens and the members of her workshop have made it possible for a body of remarkable images to acquire a new status through  an ancient practice.

Tapestry is one of the oldest forms of woven textiles and probably the procedure most suited to creating pictures by weaving.[1] Known since antiquity in Egypt (fig. 6), Asia, and Pre-Columbian America, the production of tapestries developed more or less independently in each of these areas. While their basic function has always been that of wall-covering, and while their textures have changed little through the ages, tapestries may present multifarious visual features―from abstract patterns and symbolic representations to eloquent narratives and colorful decorations―and may answer needs of a religious and spiritual nature or simply satisfy the demands of interior decoration.

Tapestry’s fortunes have fluctuated in the West. Surely, they formed an important part of the visual environment in urban antiquity. As the Greeks and the Romans invaded neighboring territories or were exposed to Eastern cultures, they started treasuring tapestries from Babylon, Egypt, Persia, and India, bringing an appreciation of the technique to the West. In modern Europe, the destiny of tapestry depended upon shifts in taste and changing perceptions of the roles played by the weaver and the artist-designer. For instance, medieval tapestry transformed the medium both by augmenting the narrative connotations of the pictures and by leaving weavers free to create their own images, usually adapted from illuminated manuscripts. The early sixteenth century saw a reversal of these priorities, as working sketches by artists became full-sized drawings, or cartoons, which the weavers had to copy with utter precision. This practice is epitomized by Raphael’s cartoons for The Acts of the Apostles (fig. 7), a group of tapestries intended to hang on the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel.[2] Never before had an artist taken such complete control over the creative process. Raphael’s cartoons gave the Flemish weavers of the workshop of Peter Coecke van Aelst―who in 1515 was commissioned by Leo X to execute the tapestries―detailed specifications as to shape, size, tone, and color of the final pictures. From then on, the artist’s role in tapestry design grew as the weavers’ creative input diminished. Working now with greater creative control, numerous artists prepared cartoons for tapestries: from Raphael’s contemporaries Giulio Romano, Pontormo, and Titian to Peter Paul Rubens and Pietro da Cortona, whose impressive History of Constantine of 1623–30  is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (fig. 8).[3] Later  artists such as Nicolas Poussin, Charles Lebrun, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, Mario Sironi, and Alighiero Boetti (fig. 9) at some point in their careers made designs for tapestries. Notwithstanding a handful of influential advocates for the artistic merits of tapestry ―including William Morris, Jean Lurçat, and Le Corbusier[4]―tapestry today is classed mainly in the realm of craft rather than art unless it can be associated authoritatively with the artist who designed it.

The sharp divide between art and craft has deeply affected tapestry’s reputation in the West. Renaissance artists and writers initiated this rift, privileging works in painting and sculpture as the offspring of a liberal practice intermediating between the perceptions of the outside world and the visions of the artist’s imagination.[5] The divide was fully achieved, however, only in the eighteenth century with the foundation of the beaux-arts system.[6] Following this development, ancient views of tekhnê as an all-encompassing activity and of creativity as a generic human faculty dropped from discussions of artistic phenomena.[7] These two complementary views had still been influential during the Renaissance because of its emphasis on the universal bearing of disegno, or drawing.[8] But they lost credence as eighteenth-century artists and writers on art began to value almost exclusively the semiotic and aesthetic properties deemed intrinsic to each particular artistic form. The modern system of the arts saw to it that the products of a restricted set of practices such as painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and (often alternatively) architecture, dance, and garden design, be appreciated in terms of disinterested pleasure, specific demands of their mediums, and achievements internal to their historical developments. Because they were said to evince genius and inventiveness and to prompt judgments of taste and insights into specialized areas of competence, works in painting, sculpture, and other “elevated” mediums were set apart from products made by reiterated technical operations and for utilitarian purposes. This discrimination between art and craft, artist and artisan, helped to establish the autonomy of works of art. It placed them within a realm of illusion, deliberately aloof from the dynamics of the world and reality at large, by differentiating artistic experience from other experiences and by circumscribing the potentially unlimited manifestations of human creativity to a quantified number of artistic activities. These radical distinctions made tapestry’s “artistic” status uncertain. As the beaux-arts gained prestige, the taste for and market value of tapestry waned.[9] No longer a precious collectible, tapestry was valued no more than other household items. Its appeal, when felt, was due to its decorative appearance and versatility. Subsequent calls for a revaluation of tapestry, when they came, often attempted to align it with other supposedly major arts, primarily painting, and thus implicitly ratified the very principles of the modern system that had devalued tapestry in the first place, without esteeming human creativity over and above the material basis of its heterogeneous outlets.

William Kentridge’s tapestries partake to some extent in the complex history of tapestry, which I have only hinted at above. But they also depart from it, defying some of its recurrent assumptions. While endorsing the narrative bent of Western tapestries, they do not fulfill the expectations of décor, luxury, and status commonly linked with tapestry. Their subject matter compels one to think of human mobility in its extensive sense of global outgrowth and confrontation with otherness within and without oneself. It is a subject whose visual pregnancy cannot be appraised simply in terms of disinterested aesthetic pleasure, which, since the nineteenth century, has often been invoked to rescue tapestry from its declassed status as craft.[10] Nor would it be sound to ascribe to Kentridge’s tapestries the ambition to secure a place for tapestry in the beaux-arts system. Like his other works, Kentridge’s tapestries demonstrate a capacity not only for blurring the gap between craft and art, but also for subverting the pretence of placing artistic phenomena within fixed categories.

In suggestive ways, Kentridge’s tapestries revive and address issues germane to his other work to date.[11] They conjure a scenario of human movement and proximity on a planetary scale; reclaim the cinematic core of Kentridge’s images; question the ambivalence of “shadows” in Western theories of knowledge; and posit the activity of drawing as a potentially unlimited experience. Arguably, here as in other of his works, Kentridge’s imagery unfolds through unceasing mediations (formal, cultural, historical, etc.) and yet does not presuppose or confide in any strict identification between a work of art and its physical and semiotic outlook. Rather it points to the flexibility of human creativity and calls for a renewed grasp of its unconditional nature.

  1. Images of People on the Move

Kentridge’s tapestries tell of a world of people on the move. The foregrounds show one or two black silhouettes against overall reproductions of maps representing various parts of the planet. I will discuss the silhouettes’ shadowy character below, but here I wish to deal with their immediate thematic implications. The black silhouettes or shadows are reminiscent of  sequences of multiple figures in procession found in Kentridge’s videos, artist’s books, and sculptures as early as Art/Procession Study (1989) and Art Procession: Develop, Catch Up, Even Surpass (1990), and thereafter in Shadow Procession (fig. 10), Portage (fig. 11; plate 2), and Procession (2000). Though figures appear in the tapestries only one or two at a time, they are nevertheless caught in what seems like a procession. Their positions and postures suggest a momentary halt within motion. Except for Office Love (plate 17), the tapestries share the informal title Porter Series, with changing subtitles. The porter is a favorite motif with Kentridge. The job of a porter–somebody carrying a load on his or her back or head–exemplifies labor in its basic demand for physical energy. Key to the associations evoked by the tapestry series are the maps in the background. Depicting Spain, the Atlantic, Asia, the Arctic, and other places, the maps date to the first half of the nineteenth century, a period that witnessed a significant increase in human mobility and migration, which to varying degrees has characterized the planet since hominization.[12] The maps hint that the silhouettes and territories may be somewhat related. This pairing sets the narrative tone of the woven pictures by evoking situations of routing and resting, encounters and seclusion, solidarity and exploitation. In short, the Porter Series both entails and inspires a meditation on the ineluctable flux of human transits, industry, and contacts.

What can one say, however, about these porters moving across the earth? As depicted in the tapestries, their race, gender, and citizenship are ambiguous. They may be female or male, of African, European, or Asian ancestry. In one tapestry, Noah, the map’s inscription reads: “Geographie des Hebreaux” (plate 27). Diaspora, the name for the Jewish condition of dispersal enshrined in Deuteronomy 28:25, seems to apply to them all. No longer pertaining to a single people, diaspora has become a way of life for all individuals and groups who migrate across geocultural borders. The Porter Series allows one to imagine that, in their migration, the porters may cover long or short distances in a trail of arrivals and departures that began long before their time. Thus perceived, the Porter Series is a reminder that―whether mass or small-scale; willed or forced (and often it has been the latter); wheter propelled by open-mindedness and longing for unknown lands or compelled by famine, discrimination, and hope for a better life―migration is a decisive feature of modernity. In the three centuries after Columbus’s voyage in 1492, some two million  Europeans crossed the Atlantic to settle in the Americas, while nearly eight million Africans were brought there, most of them in slavery.[13] Migration has affected modernity in its concomitant dramas of colonization and decolonization and has driven the globalization of the twentieth century.

Both experientially and conceptually, migration challenges the belief in progress that is one of the foundations of the nation-state—a culturally homogeneous society occupying a distinct territory, governed by a unitary lawful structure. Created in part as a deterrent to the distressing effects of migration, the notion of the nation-state gained full currency in Euro-American societies in the nineteenth century, when the maps reproduced in the Porter Series were compiled. Despite these geopolitical interdictions, the protagonists of Kentridge’s tapestries undertake transnational moves by walking (defiantly? dangerously?) across the frontiers marked by the maps. Their cinematic postures upset static configurations of the world while infringing spatiotemporal barriers.[14] The random graphemes inscribed on the black silhouettes signal points of tension caused by forces presumably sprung from the transient entanglement of bodies and territories. Moreover, the fact that the porters carry an assortment of objects (a bed, chairs, a telephone, a megaphone, a gigantic compass) and that one of them is metamorphosing into a tree indicates that their physical exertion does not preclude their mental and emotional engagement. Indeed, the telephone and megaphone are anachronistic; their inclusion not only contradicts the historical dates of the maps, but also insinuates that the porters may be heralds of futures yet unseen, or perhaps agents of other experiential times undetectable within the totalizing scheme of humankind’s chronological progress. The idea of progress implied by the maps has been put to harsh use by modern countries imposing models of Western development upon people supposedly without history. Thus the anachronisms in Kentridge’s images testify against uniform conceptions of progress. They hint, implicitly, that the changing of patterns of life on earth—results of a contest between monopolistic power and human freedom—manifest themselves as much in changing uses of space and territory as in perceptions of time and history.

Yet the Porter Series keeps the porters’ identity complicated. It is hard to discover what exactly motivates the porters in their motion. It could be a vexing search for a means of survival as much as a restless exploration of new horizons. The black silhouettes might stand for settlers, nomads, slaves, refugees, or invaders. On the one hand, they can be seen as stateless outcasts, people who find themselves excluded from the privileges of citizenship and reduced to a “bare life” in subsisting in a zone alienated from subjective rights and juridical protection.[15] Following this line of reasoning, the porters bring to mind the condition of subalternity endured by workers and colonized subjects oppressed by hegemonic powers in many countries and at many periods in history. On the other hand, the porters’ movements may also answer a positive need to make one’s voice heard (with a megaphone?) or to chart (with the compass?) global spaces where habitual perceptions about centers and peripheries would be superseded by the recognition that people’s closeness to and distance from environments are always being negotiated. The porters, that is, announce that there are no permanent zones of indistinction, that the relationships between sovereignty and territoriality can be reconfigured.[16]

But the multiple meanings of the porters’ identity is probably essential to what the Porter Series seeks to envision. Migration is qualified by instability, by the traumas, mutations, and epiphanies occurring through territorialization and deterritorialization. Transits affect both bodies and minds. Human beings enter into what contemporary anthropologists call “contact zones”― areas where individuals, hitherto geographically and historically separated, clash and interact within uneven relations of power.[17] The Porter Series alludes to the tremors of these contact zones. It visualizes what has become apparent in our new global cultural economy: that increasing diasporas of people cause hybridization among subjectivities, cultures, and languages; grant relations that both recognize and safeguard the opaqueness of others; stimulate rhizomic aggregations that reshape the earth and its inhabitants, whose feelings of community are now attached to imagined worlds and “ethnoscapes.”[18] Finally, frustrating interpretations of the porters’ identities as specimens of “otherness,”[19] the Porter Series may suggest that the black silhouettes resist detection because they represent individuals whose lives run parallel to those of the dominant social classes and yet remain impervious to their codes. Precisely by being imponderable, the porters epitomize what is today perceived as an emerging collective intelligence, which needs no head to lead its political body since it is itself the enlightened, immaterial heart of the global system of production. Through its perpetual exodus, the collective of the porters therefore manages to defy and subtract itself from the forced recruitment of all the psychophysical energies of individuals to the cause of capitalism in its post-Fordist and multinational phase.[20]

The interplay between background and foreground―the porters’ opacity and the maps’ decipherability―kindles the narrative purport of the woven images without prescribing a univocal direction of sense. In doing so, it aptly thematizes the unknown elements inherent to transiting and becoming. We begin to fathom, then, one of the reasons why the porters must be “shadows.” Shadows entertain a difficult relationship with reality and yet have played a significant role in human experience since antiquity. As shadows cast over the world, the images of the porters intensify the sensitivity to oneself as ”other” and to another as oneself―a sensitivity that modernity has prepared us for and that now, in our globalized world, is a daily routine for the masses of cosmopolite workers who are increasingly exposed to new encounters and intersections with strangers. But the shadow nature of the porters also elicits an exploration of the potential alliances encircling visible and invisible domains, seeing and knowing, thoughts and imagination. Hence the Porter Series inaugurates another course of associations, which verge upon the metaphysical dilemma of distinguishing the true from the illusory world―a dilemma that shadowgraphy both exploits and frustrates.

  1. Shadowgraphy and the Overcoming of Platonism

Shadowgraphy, or the making of images by throwing shadows, ranges from the simple trick of conjuring a rabbit’s shadow with one’s hands to the sophisticated devices used in theater, painting, viewing machines, photography, and cinema. Humans seem to have an enduring fascination with shadows. In ancient and modern cultures alike, they have been regarded as double, virtual bodies or as reflections of the soul, and they have been studied in both science and art for what they can tell us about perception.[21]

Shadows, moreover, are central to two mythical accounts of origins. The first is the famous philosophical parable found in Plato’s Republic (7.514–515), in which the human condition is likened to that of prisoners trapped in a cave, who, seeing only the wall opposite the entrance, deem as real the shadows cast on the wall by figures and objects placed behind them and illuminated by a fire. Only when the prisoners are let loose and turn around can they start ascending from error to the lights of true knowledge. The second account concerns the origin of portraiture as narrated by Pliny the Elder (Natural History 35.43). He reports that Butades, a potter of Sicyon, invented clay portraiture because his daughter, in love with a young man who was going abroad, drew in outline on a wall the shadow of his face thrown by a lamp. Butades pressed clay on the outline and made a relief, which he hardened by exposure to fire, thus creating a lasting semblance of the youth. Both of these stories ascribe great power to shadows. Pliny, who had previously noted that the art of painting also was said to have begun with tracing someone’s shadow (Natural History 35.15), positively associates shadows with artistic representation, as well as the with an image’s peculiar ability to compensate for absence, if not death, by preserving someone’s effigy. For Plato, by contrast, shadows share with mirrors and pictures the deceptive power of a mere apparition or eidolon. They induce humans to trust the illusory data of the senses and to ignore the transcendental truth of ideas. Though for opposite reasons, both stories interestingly link shadows and images not only to each other, but also to the dynamics of becoming aware, whether that awareness is aroused by the creation/contemplation of a likeness or by the discovery of the intelligible order of reality. In Pliny’s text, awareness implies trusting images, or shadows, because they capture identity and difference by keeping present persons or things that are absent. In Plato’s parable, awareness means translating from appearance to reality so that mystifying differences and sense perceptions are redeemed by the cognition of trustworthy, immaterial identities.

In the Porter Series, Kentridge likewise endeavors to strike paths to awareness. His use of shadowgraphy generates images of otherness: effigies of porters whose identity remains indeterminate. As in Plato’s allegory, the tapestries exhibit shadows of figures and objects presumably located behind the onlooker and the artist himself. As in Pliny’s anecdote, the outlines impressed upon the woven pictures keep a visual memory of the departing porters.

At times, images of cast shadows alone assume a preeminent role in works of art. Writing to Émile Bernard in 1888, Paul Gauguin praised the calculated “strangeness” achievable in painting “if instead of a figure you put the shadow only of a person.”[22] Gauguin’s prescription, which could be applied to modern paintings ranging from Jean-Leon Gérôme’s Golgotha of 1867 (fig. 12) to works by Giorgio de Chirico (fig. 13), Marcel Duchamp, and Pablo Picasso (figs. 14), reflects contemporary vogues with shadow and silhouette in Japanese prints, théâtre d’ombres, and pantomime. It proposes that contoured shapes should replace chiaroscuro and that a painting of shadow better demonstrates the artist’s delving into hidden realms. This interest in shadows coincided with developments in photography[23] and protocinematic practices, particularly phantasmagoria. The latter, an entertainment popular after the French Revolution, consisted of a modified magic lantern projecting images of skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls or screens. Phantasmagoria made the moving image a vehicle for intimate exploration beyond physical space into something multidimensional: the phantasmal imagery of the mind itself, with its rather unaccountable mechanisms of perception and imagination.[24] Kentridge’s Porter Series revives this nineteenth-century interest in manifold states of consciousness by accentuating the phantasmal aspects of shadows and conveying a cinematic effect of spatiotemporal flow. However, the calculated strangeness of depicting cast shadows in itself fosters both disorientation and catharsis. Staging a shadow’s revenge against Plato’s verdict, the Porter Series stipulates that becoming aware is a process of coevolutionary coupling in which imagination and intellect, cogitation and emotion, do not split but rather cooperate as soon as one dispenses with assumptions about truth and illusion.

Explaining why he uses shadows in his works, Kentridge refers to Plato’s parable of the cave and proposes a reverse journey: a descent from the brightness of the sun to the darkness of the cave. For Kentridge, Plato’s parable not only anticipates cinema’s mode of projection—the prisoners’ condition being analogous to that of spectators in a movie theater—but it also affords insights into shadows themselves. To return to the cave is to yield to shadows’ faculty for engendering awareness. Insofar as seeing “is always a mediation between this image and other knowledge,” shadows “make the mediation conscious.”[25] When human hands ingeniously evoke a shadow of something against a lit wall, we realize that the outcome is both a shadow of two hands with crossed thumbs and a shadow of an imagined rabbit or bird. We fluctuate between the realms of optics and physics and those opened up by a mindful attentiveness to the event. For Kentridge, coping with this dyad of responses, recognizing the pleasure of self-deception, is “fundamental in what it is to be a visual being.” Platonic opinion contends that the truth is limited to the crossed thumbs, but for Kentridge the fluctuation between antagonistic realms experienced by the viewer of a shadow is just as illuminating. This fluctuation heightens the sense of mediation congenital to art itself, which renders us “conscious of the precept of ‘Always be mediating.’”[26] And the precept is unrestricted. Kentridge continues, “All calls to certainty, whether of political jingoism or of objective knowledge, have an authoritarian origin relying on blindness and coercion—which are fundamentally inimical to what it is to be alive in the world with one’s eyes open.”[27] Opening one’s eyes and being alive in the world coincide with giving up one-sidedness. From shadows one learns about one’s intervention in the creation of both illusions and meanings. [28] It is no longer a matter of holding to the one or the other but rather of setting free the circularity of truth versus untruth. If shadows work akin to art, it is because they disclose ways of experiencing one’s own construction of experience. The path to awareness indicated by shadows does not treat vision and knowledge as distinct activities. It uncovers the intertwining of sight and insight, fantasy and thought, feelings and perceptions, that makes up the multidimensional sphere of a consciousness.

Kentridge’s attempt to overcome Platonism can be linked with the stance of Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the first Western philosophers to dismantle Plato’s dualistic mode of thought. The effect of this dismantling became apparent to Nietzsche in a sudden brainstorm, which he wrote down in 1888: “The true world is gone: which world is left? The illusory one, perhaps? . . . But no! we got rid of the illusory world along with the true one![29] Nietzsche perceived that the true and illusory worlds are two sides of the same coin. Getting rid of the true world must doom the other as well. Nietzsche’s insight paralleled his meditations on art and artists. Because there are no definite truths, artistic creation is evidence of a will freely willing its own becoming. Maintaining that art intensifies and re-creates existence, Nietzsche could move beyond the two worlds and break the boundaries separating knowledge, creativity, and life itself. In a similar vein, Kentridge ascribes to art the ability to trespass boundaries and enhance experiential fluidity or mindfulness of mediation. Shadows inspire one to question both appearance and reality. Neither the effigy made by Butades nor the transcendence promised by Plato is enough. The schism of appearance and reality may be superseded by the awakening of forms of attentiveness that simultaneously pose and interlock imagination and intellection.

By refuting Platonism through shadowgraphy, the Porter Series stirs such attentiveness. Given that the tapestries thematize a world of people on the move, the porters can now be seen as transitional figures not only by virtue of their cinematic postures and their rather indeterminable referential attributes but also because as shadows they prompt modes of looking and understanding that override assured parameters of truth and illusion. They are likenesses liable to being taken alternatively for perceptions or inventions, or both. The sense of otherness conveyed by the porters cannot be controlled through univocal categorizations. Otherness is revealed as asymmetrical, unconscious, and yet open to dynamics of proximity and intercourse—provided that we acknowledge the active contribution that otherness makes to our being or becoming attentive to the worlds of others as well as to our own introspective worlds. Otherness, that is, is not remotely outside, nor can it be entirely absorbed within. It is a shifting factor construed within a relation that may divert, entangle, and define the emergence of the self and the other. In fact, the concealed elements that qualify the porters’ identities may equally qualify the identities of those facing them, because the recognition of others parallels the realization of concealed elements within and outside of oneself. If the geographic maps function as the wall of Plato’s cave, if the tapestries’ backgrounds are screens for cinematic projections of shadows, then the onlookers (and, initially, the artist himself) oscillate between believing and disbelieving the pictures of the Porter Series. Their position comes to correspond to the arena of the unconscious, understood as a mutable place of transmigration in which who one is or becomes is inextricable―perceptively, emotionally, and mentally―from a state of attentiveness to otherness.

The Porter Series suggests that a world of people on the move now constitutes the arena in which such encounters with oneself and between oneself and others take place. Though the maps indicate a past moment in human migration, the series attests the predicaments and hopes that characterize life in a postcolonial, globalized world. Just as more and more people are transiting the planet, so are they destined to meditate about unknown horizons of existence and human existence itself. In the world of the Porter Series, awareness proceeds from the making of symmetries, albeit mutable, between conscious and unconscious dimensions of life, the genetic fate of being human and the personal history of one or more individuals. Whereas in Plato and Pliny, shadows validate myths of origins, in the Porter Series shadows unsettle any certitude about origins. As silhouettes of people on the move, shadows summon up the repeated self-(re)creations that humans enact in order to continue life within the transindividual sphere of the world. These (re)creations do not answer the metaphysical question about where we are coming from and going to; they do not solve the riddle of the origins of the human species. Nonetheless, they intimate that exodus and migration make the uncertainty of origin something that can be performed throughout the journey. (Re)creating themselves, people reproduce and reiterate each time anew the very uncertainty of the blank slate of human origin, so that the blank itself becomes the object of experience, the experiential fulcrum of a nascence characterized by both the lack of origin (common to the whole species) and the abundance of singularity inherent in every individual.

  1. The Genus of Drawing

How did Kentridge’s work come to rehearse Nietzsche’s insight about the collapse of the worlds of truth and illusion?  I propose that the answer can be found in the primacy of drawing throughout his artistic production. In his animated films (i.e., Johannesburg, Second Greatest City After Paris [1989]; Mine [1991]; Felix in Exile [1994]), for example, “the process of facture remains visible”[30] because the film is constructed by shooting a series of drawings in charcoal and pastel, each repeatedly erased, redrawn, and photographed throughout its metamorphoses (fig. 15). Unlike cel animation, which employs thousands of drawings, Kentridge’s films―he pointedly calls them “drawings for projection”―merge moments of a small number of drawings visualizing a scene or sequence. They record the effluence of drawing itself: a springing forth and vanishing of visions, lines, figures, and plots. Kentridge has said, “It is only when physically engaged on a drawing that ideas start to emerge.”[31] “Drawing for me is about fluidity. . . . What I’m interested in is a kind of multilayered highway of consciousness. . . . My work is about a process of drawing that tries to find a way through the space between what we know and what we see.”[32] Begetting neither realism nor abstraction, drawing outstrips both the true and the illusory world. It is a practice whose unstipulated spectrum warrants its extraordinarily wide reverberations. “In the indeterminacy of drawing,” Kentridge comments, “lies some kind of model of how we live our lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are or how we operate in the world.”[33]

Two aspects of Kentridge’s understanding of drawing bear special notice here. The first is what seems to be his intuition of a generic creativity, which drawing announces and sustains by disclosing the multidimensional nature of its applications. By “generic creativity” I mean that the emergence of creative work, and the effects it generates, cannot be exclusively linked with specialized areas of competences nor can it be sufficiently explained according to pregiven taxonomies―formal, linguistic or conceptual. To emphasize the “generic” aspects of creativity is to revive the ancient understanding of tekhnê as any kind of human capacity to bring something into existence. As a generic human trait, creativity belongs to the very fact of being alive[34]. It acts as a sort of primary agency mediating between heterogeneous reciprocal dimensions of occurrences and experiences.

The second aspect, which may be called “coevolutive coorigination,” describes the dynamics of this creative reciprocation, in which seemingly independent realms—such as those of subject and object, individual and signs, energy and matter, seeing and knowing—are revealed as codependent by the very coupling through which they both arise.[35] Kentridge hints at a generic quality of the creative act when he speaks of drawing’s indeterminacy and associates drawing with the very way we live our lives. He alludes in turn to a process of coorigination when he indicates the fluid character of drawing and states his interest in a “multilayered highway of consciousness,” which I take to be an interest in the many concurrent forces that manifest consciousness as such. Both generic creativity and creative coevolving are key to grasping drawing’s capacity to manifest to the senses the extrasensory agencies of the mind and the imagination. Drawing thus becomes a potential model of being and becoming in the world. Touching the dynamics of life itself, drawing for Kentridge names a generic artistic expertise that augments awareness in its visual, emotional, cognitive, and existential components.

Kentridge’s understanding of drawing brings us back to a moment before the eighteenth-century foundation of the beaux-arts system. It echoes the concept of disegno elaborated by writers and artists of the Italian Renaissance, from Lorenzo Ghiberti to Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccaro. Through the pivotal concept of disegno, or drawing, these authors reworked ancient views of tekhnê as an all-encompassing activity and of creativity as a generic human faculty. They regarded disegno as a matrix that both engendered and surpassed the arts of architecture, painting, and sculpture. By permitting the artist to envision images adaptable to various mediums, drawing formed the practical and theoretical basis for any painting, sculpture, or other work of art, and thus legitimated for the first time their intellectual worth as products of liberal arts. Vasari, blending Plato and Aristotle, equated disegno with idea, meaning that drawing produces not so much representations of a pre-existing reality but events of consciousness that are lived and reified in the signs jotted down on a sheet.[36] Michelangelo contended that there is only one art or science—drawing or painting—because “if one considers well all that is done in this life, one will find that everybody unconsciously is engaged in painting this world.”[37] Through the concept of  disegno, Renaissance authors placed art and knowledge on equal footing, appreciating creativity as lived experience guided by mutual transmigrations of subjects and objects, images and existence. Disegno, that is, repeatedly reprises the archetypical nexus between the inventive enactment of a technical and artistic know-how and the process of becoming human.[38] Disegno demonstrates that this nexus is not unidirectional. Rather it signifies a coevolutive correlation between individuals and environment, artificial and natural things. In a period before the calcification of the modern beaux-arts system, disegno nourished the intuition of a generic creativity whose universal bearing not only explores unlimited avenues of coorigination, but is also evidence of a multidimensional “extra” that escapes the categories of the arts, which disegno nevertheless helped to define.

The affinities between Renaissance disegno and Kentridge’s understanding of drawing immunize his works against the strains of the beaux-arts system and its corollary discrimination between art and craft. Once grasped in its generality, disegno thwarts rigid classification of artistic phenomena in terms of production and reception focused on the characteristics of distinct mediums. It would be reductive to appreciate a work of art only according to the values it attaches to a specific material, its aesthetic stimulation of a specific sensory organ, or its endorsement and/or transformation of an art-historical sequence based upon an ascertained artistic form. Tellingly, Kentridge pursues various practices―film, video, printmaking, theater, sculpture―in which the sense of drawing as a virtually all-encompassing activity is valued both for the imagery it breeds and for the freedom it grants him in experimenting with diverse materials. For instance, when Kentridge produces works in bronze, thus linking himself with an ancient form of representation laden with art-historical overtones, the outcome is a work that conflates time-honored attributes of sculpture, such as tactility and mass, with the fleeting qualities of cinematic vision. Kentridge’s bronze figures may look surprisingly flat―like hefty imprints of a film or sheet of paper―and quite different depending on the angle from which one views them (fig. 16). This loosening of the boundaries among preordained uses and fruitions of sculpture and cinema makes the images refer back and forth to the harmonic, multidimensional space of drawing. It suggests that a work of art’s raison d’être should be sought over and above the coded system of the arts, if not over and above whatever mediums have been or can be devised by artists in the making of a work.

Kentridge’s works do not seek to further particular privileged practices or artistic traditions, nor are they simply about inventing new mediums.[39] Informed by the “indeterminacy” of drawing, Kentridge’s practice correlates images, physical supports, and dimensions of life OK???  in ways that preserve and bolster the intuition of a generic creativity . In the Porter Series, the woven images are not so much a revaluation of the “craft” or “art” properties of tapestry as an intensification of its bond with the pervasive agency connatural to the experience of drawing. Along with thematizing issues of transnational citizenship, frustrating judgments of taste attached to tapestry, and confounding dualistic assumptions of appearance and reality, the Porter Series explores generic creativity in its artistic and non-artistic implications. Thus, another course of associations is triggered by the Porter Series―this time bringing us full circle.

  1. Paths Laid Down in Walking

The Porter Series restores tapestry to the dignity it enjoyed before the divide between arts and crafts, without complying with the demands of eminent patrons or magnifying religious and historical traditions. Produced for the free global market of contemporary art, Kentridge’s tapestries celebrate nameless constituents of humanity. They present images of anonymous people, whose lives are divorced from the affairs of national geopolitics and indiscernible from the viewpoint of a seemingly mandatory course of world history. The nomadism of the porters resonates with the nomadic nature of tapestry itself―which is an extremely portable artwork: it can be easily rolled and carried under one’s arm, thus offering a way of making and/or using images that are suitable to conditions of both travelling and dwelling.[40] Once all this is clear, it is likewise apparent that Kentridge’s tapestries do not merely seek to elicit disinterested responses and rankings of formal achievement. Furthermore, the polysemy of the porters’ identities, the transits they epitomize, the cinematic effect of their postures, and their shadowy lack of substance can all be seen now also as evoking Kentridge’s experience of drawing. The Porter Series actualizes this experience because the movement across different dimensions and the metamorphoses it generates pertain to the porters as well as to the viewers of the tapestries and to the artist himself. In various degrees, one may partake of the sense of indeterminacy that Kentridge ascribes to the activity of drawing while linking it with “how we live our lives.” As shadows of bodies absolved from spatiotemporal coordinates, and through the narratives of travel and migration that they conjure, the porters exemplify indeterminacy both visually and thematically. For viewers it is a matter of recognizing otherness―the porters, the shadows, the maps, the image itself―as affecting what happens to them vis-à-vis the woven pictures. For the artist, it is a matter of interposing images and experience, vision and intellection, within a production where the forms of life and the forms of art coevolve, sharing both arbitrariness of rules and uncertainty of origins.

All this suggests that after globalization, in the world that the Porter Series anticipates, artists have the same destiny as everybody else on the move. A world of human transits implies the mobilization of absolutely generic human traits such as creativity and language. These traits provide resources for exchange, struggle, and transformations among different cultures. Generic creativity is the trait that admittedly qualifies the moving porters, who, whether travelers, exiles, migrants, or workers, must be not only flexible in channeling the unmitigated forces of their bodies and minds, but also ready to reactivate continuously the conditions of their own coming into existence as human beings.[41] This reactivation guarantees them opportunities of proximity, confrontation, and survival within the planetary sphere. Similarly, artists’ contributions cannot be merely knowledgeable additions to the internal histories of particular arts, nor to the introduction of new mediums. In a world of people on the move, an artist must always stand ready to correlate signs and events, unrestricted introspectiveness and situated energies. These correlations depend not so much on expertise rooted within specialized traditions as on deepening the generic expertise of creativity. Generic creativity is a resource that an artist can rely upon and expand whenever a radical restaging of received procedures and means of expression is felt necessary for cultural, ethical, and political reasons. Responding to the challenges and promises of a globalized planet, Kentridge effects this restaging by making the experience of drawing the beacon of his practice.

A know-how that is both generic and unconfined, drawing expands into productions in which the process does not disappear but rather is made public within the product. This is probably why Kentridge, emulating the attitudes and deceptions of the pioneering director Georges Méliés, in Journey to the Moon (2003) films himself in his studio while walking, stalking the drawings, making and erasing forms, grabbing flying pages and scrutinizing them, lifting a chair as if by magic, discovering what one sees using a coffee cup as a monocle, being followed by a woman invisible to him in the flesh but previously spotted in her sketched likeness in a book (fig. 17). The filming of these performances illustrates that Kentridge’s modus operandi is situated: a first-person event enveloping all those dynamics―conscious and unconscious, imaginary and perceptive―by which images come into existence through embodied experience. But there is more. Like the porters in the tapestries, Kentridge walks in his studio infringing spatiotemporal boundaries. His transits through dimensions, like those of the porters, are unpredictable in that they occasion moments of fracture, mediation, and contact among states of being and becoming unknown beforehand but identifiable precisely within the transiting. Both porters and artists share a disposition to strike paths that exist only as they are laid down in walking.[42] These paths objectify the multidimensional “extra” of generic creativity while designing trajectories of awareness.

The Porter Series proposes that becoming aware in a world of people on the move is a process that flows from the coevolutive couplings of vision and knowledge, imagination and thought, emotion and intellect. Just as a confrontation with the enigmatic power of shadows may result in a mindfulness of mediation, so a confrontation with the destabilizing realization of otherness may turn into encounters with oneself and between oneself and others. The concealed elements inherent to human beings on the move ultimately characterize not only migration and interaction among individuals or groups, but also introspection and creation. In different but concurrent modes, these elements animate attentiveness and project a consciousness into the unconscious. Experiencing the world, not as a datum that can be codified in subjective or objective terms, but as the fabric of dependent coorigination between deeds and doers, people and environments, consciousness discovers itself groundless and yet intimately intermeshed with the dramas, inequalities, and aspirations of the world. Enhancing experiential fluidity, the Porter Series vindicates for artistic practice the job of reifying into images this discovery, which is so crucial for the forms of life arising after the collapse of the true and illusory worlds.

[1] Surveys of the history of tapestry making include Pierre Verlet, Michel Florisoone, Adolf Hoffmeister, and François Tabard, The Book of Tapestry: History and Technique,  trans. Edita S. A. Lousanne (New York: Vendome Press, 1978); Madeleine Jarry, World Tapestry, from Its Origins to the Present  (New York: Putnam, 1969); Wolfgang Brassat, Tapisserien und Politik: Funkionen, Kontexte und Reception eines repräsentativen Mediums (Berlin: Mann, 1992); Barty Phillips, Tapestry (London: Phaidon, 1994).

[2] Out of the vast literature on the subject, see John Shearman, Raphael’s Cartoons in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, and the Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel (London: Phaidon, 1972); Creighton Gilbert, “Are the Ten Tapestries a Complete Series or a Fragment?” in Studi su Raffaello, ed. Micaela Sambucco Hamoud and Maria Letizia Strocchi (Urbino: QuattroVenti, 1987), vol. 1, pp. 533–50; Sharon Fermor, The Raphael Tapestry Cartoons: Narrative, Decoration, Design (London: Scala Books, 1996); Thomas P. Campbell, “The Acts of the Apostles Tapestries and Raphael’s Cartoons,” in Campbell, Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 187–203.

[3] The set consists of twelve panels, seven of which, based upon sketches by Rubens, were given in 1625 by Louis XIII to Cardinal Francesco Barberini. Barberini had been sent to Paris by his uncle Urban VIII as papal legate to negotiate with the king over the Valtelline controversy. Back in Rome, Barberini decided to complete the set with panels woven from designs by Pietro da Cortona and finished in 1630. See David Dubon, Tapestries from the Samuel H. Kress Collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art: The History of Constantine the Great Designed by Peter Paul Rubens and Pietro da Cortona (London: Phaidon, 1964).

[4] For modern and contemporary attempts to redress the balance between artists and weavers and revaluate tapestry’s worth, see Hoffmeister’s essay in The Book of Tapestry, pp. 116-136; and Phillips, Tapestry, pp. 117-168. See also Jean Lurçat, Tapisserie Française (Paris: Bordas, 1947). Fresh light on the significance of tapestry was also cast by Alois Reigl in his studies of textile art, especially the paradigmatic Stilfragen (1893), in which he boldly claimed a continuity of a few fundamental motifs (i.e., the palmette, the zigzag, the rosette) in the history of ornament from ancient Egypt to modern times. Finally, it is noteworthy that le Corbusier, in Tapisseries éxécutées dans l’atelier Tabard à Aubusson (Paris: Galerie Louise Réné, 1952) n. p., called for a renewal of tapestry understood as “muralnomad” arguing that “Today’s tapestry is and will be the mural of the nomad. The painted mural one rolls under one’s arm. We are al nomads, living in rented apartments and in future Unités d’Habitation.” For the whole point, see Romy Golan, “From monument to Muralnomad: the mural in modern European architecture,” in The Built Surface, vol. 2, Architecture and the pictorial arts from romanticism to the 21th century, ed. Christy Andweson and Karen Koehler (London: Ashgate, 2002), pp. 201-5.


[5] For the new, “artistic” status of the images in the Renaissance, see Hans Belting, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), especially pp. 470–78.

[6] On this paradigmatic turn, heralded in works such as Charles Batteux’s Les beaux arts réduits à un même principle (1746) and Immanuel Kant’s Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790), see Paul Oskar Kristeller, “The Modern System of the Arts” (1951–52), in Kristeller, Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and the Arts (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), pp. 163–227; Larry Shiner, The Invention of Art: A Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

[7] The ancient Sanskrit root ḳ̣r- ,or words like the Vedic śilpa, the Greek tekhnê, and the Latin ars allude to a general human ability to know how to do, make, perform, and create in a variety of more or less specialized activities. For the gap between ancient and modern conceptions of “artistic” activity, see Kristeller, “The Modern System of the Arts”; and Shiner, The Invention of Art. See also Lionello Venturi, “Per il nome di arte” (1929), in Saggi di critica (Rome: Bocca, 1956) pp. 121–28; Tullio De Mauro, “Per la storia di Ars ‘Arte’,” Studi Mediolatini e Volgari, vol. 8 (Bologna: Libreria Antiquaria Palmaverde, 1960), pp. 53–68. Martin Heidegger, in Nietzsche (1961), trans. David Farrell Krell (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), vols. 1–2, pp. 80–82, made insightful comments on tekhnê as a knowledge inspiring any sort of human endeavor to bring forth something in the midst of beings. On the gradual conflating of the concepts of tekhnê, poiesis, and creativity in Greek thought, see Cornelius Castoriadis, “Technique,” in Les carrefours du labyrinthe 1 (Paris: Seuil, 1978), pp. 289–95.

[8] I will say more about Renaissance disegno in the fourth section, where I discuss Kentridge’s own experience of drawing.

[9] Gerald Reitlinger, The Economics of Taste, vol. 2, The Rise and Fall of Objets d’Art Prices since 1750 (London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1963), pp. 68–69, relates that, in 1778, a late-fifteenth-century Arras or Tournai tapestry, until then at the Old Somerset House, went on sale at a remarkably low price. A few years later, the Cathedral Chapter of Angers failed to sell the fourteenth-century Apocalypse designed by Jan Boudolf and woven in Robert Poinçon’s workshop―now among the most admired tapestries in the West.

[10] Eugène Müntz, one of the first art historians to trace tapestry’s history, commended it as “an essentially sumptuous art . . . intended to charm, captivate, and dazzle far more than to move or instruct. It is not its vocation to depict suffering or abnegation, austerity or high philosophical conceptions.” Müntz, A Short History of Tapestry: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century, trans. Louisa J. Davis (London: Cassell, 1885), pp. xiv–xv.

[11] On Kentridge’s work, see Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, William Kentridge, exh. cat. (Brussels: Société des Expositions des Beaux-Arts, 1998); Dan Cameron, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and J. M. Coetzee, William Kentridge (London: Phaidon, 1999); Rosalind Krauss, “‘The Rock’: William Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection,” October 92 (Spring 2000), pp. 3–35; Neal Benezra et al., William Kentridge, exh. cat. (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 2001); Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, ed., William Kentridge, exh. cat., Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (Milan: Skira, 2004).

[12] See Patrick Manning, Migration in World History (New York: Routledge, 2005), which also contains valuable bibliographies for specific periods, groups, and countries.

[13] Studies on African migrations and slavery include  Isidore Okpewho, Carole Boyce Davies, and Ali A. Mazrui, eds., The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999); Paul E. Lovejoy and David V. Trotman, eds., Trans-Atlantic Dimensions of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora, (London: Continuum, 2003). For the global implications of slavery in modernity, see also Patrick Manning, Slavery and African Life: Occidental, Oriental, and African Slave Trades (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

[14] For cinema’s characteristic condensation of motion and emotion, and its link with travel culture, see Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film (New York: Verso, 2002).

[15] For the inhuman condition of the globally excluded who have been denied citizenship, see Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

[16] With regard to East and Southeast Asian countries, Aihwa Ong argues that neoliberalism favors an interactive mode of social organization based on marketable skills rather than state citizenship; see Ong, Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).

[17] For Mary Louise Pratt, “contact zone” names the shifting spaces of colonial encounters and struggles; see Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 4–7. See also James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 188ff.; and Clifford’s 1999 interview with Alex Coles in Clifford, On the Edges of Anthropology (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003), pp. 33–35.

[18] For the ways in which difference and hybridization affect people living at the borders of heterogeneous cultures, see Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994; reprint, London: Routledge, 2004). The encounter with others as recognition/preservation of their being as they are in their opaqueness is at the core of Édouard Glissant’s meditations on the cultures borne out of creolization; see his Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing  (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997). “Rhizoma” and “rhizomatic” are key in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s thinking of the processes intertwining organic and inorganic forces; see Deleuze and Guattari, Rhizome (Introduction) (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1976); A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980), trans. and foreword by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987). For “ethnoscape” as the transnational landscape of tourists, immigrants, refugees, and guest workers, see Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996; reprint, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), esp. pp. 33–34.

[19] Western colonizing views of other civilizations were exposed by Edward Said’s 1978 classic Orientalism: Western Representations of the Orient (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985). For the risks run, for instance, by contemporary African artists acting or being fashioned as “others,” see Olu Oguibe and Okwui Enwenzor, eds., Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999); Olu Oguibe, The Culture Game (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004).

[20] Inexplicable within predefined categories of class, citizenship, gender, and work, the porters would thus stand for political subjects variously postulated by Italian operaismo and postcolonial Indian historiography. See, for instance, Mario Tronti, Operai e capitale (1966; reprint, Rome: DeriveApprodi, 2006); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000); Paolo Virno, A Gramar of the Multitude, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, and Andrea Casson, forword by Sylvere Lotringer (Cambridge, Mass.: Semiotext(e), 2004); Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. with an introduction by Carl Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), pp. 271–313; Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Subaltern Histories and Post-Enlightenment Rationalism” (1995), in Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies, foreword by Homi K. Bhabha (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 20–37.

[21] For shadows as souls or parts of someone’s self, see James G. Fraser’s The Golden Bough (1922; reprint, New York: Touchstone, 1996), pp. 220–22. For shadows in the visual arts, see Ernst H. Gombrich, Shadows: The Depiction of Cast Shadows in Western Art (London: National Gallery, 1995); Michael Baxandall, Shadows and Enlightment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995); and Victor I. Stoichita’s manifold study, A Short History of Shadows, trans. Anne-Marie Glasheen (London: Reaktion Books, 1997). For shadows’ continuing appeal in art, culture, science, and religion, see Max Milner, L’Envers du visible: Essai sur l’ombre (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2005).

[22] Lettres de Paul Gauguin à Émile Bernard, 1888–1891 (Geneva: Pierre Cailler, 1954), pp. 63–64. For Gauguin’s statement, its context, and the work of other contemporary painters depicting the shadow alone, see Nancy Forgione, “‘The Shadow Only’: Shadow and Silhouette in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris,” Art Bulletin 81, no 3 (September 1999), pp. 490–512. See also Gombrich, Shadows, p. 55.

[23] William Henry Fox Talbot, one of its inventors, called photography “the art of fixing a shadow”; see his “Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing . . . ” (1839), in Photography: Essays and Images; Illustrated Readings in the History of Photography, ed. Beaumont Newhall (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980), p. 25.

[24] For phantasmagoria, see Martin Quigley, Magic Shadows: The Story of the Origin of Motion Pictures (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1948), pp. 75–79; Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), pp. 132–36; Terry Castle, The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), especially chap. 9; Bruno, Atlas of Emotion, p. 146.

[25] Quoted from Kentridge’s 2001 lecture, “In Praise of Shadows,” published in Christov-Bakargiev (2004), p. 159. In linking cinema with Plato’s cave, Kentridge endorses an oft-made point in cinema studies. See, for instance, Jean-Louis Baudry, “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in the Cinema,” in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader, ed. Philip Rosen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 299–318.

[26] Kentridge, “In Praise of Shadows,” p. 159.

[27] Ibid., p. 161.

[28] As Kentridge remarks: “The child who plays with shadows delights not just in seeing the image of a creature on the wall, but also in watching and grasping the illusion, in learning how shadows of hands can be transformed into animals. This awareness of how we construct meaning, and this inescapable need to make sense of shapes, seems to me very central, indeed essential, to what it means to be alive—to live in the world with open eyes.” See William Kentridge, “Black Box: Between the Lens and the Eyepiece,” in William Kentridge: Black Box / Chambre Noire, exh. cat., introduction by Maria-Christina Villaseñor (Berlin: Deutsche Guggenheim, 2006), p. 47.

[29] Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols, or How to Philosophize with a Hammer,” in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, ed. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 171 (emphasis in original). Though I cannot expound on the point here, it is noteworthy that shadows inspired Nietzsche’s thought, as with “The Wanderer and His Shadow” (1880), which constituted the second part of Human, All Too Human (1886).

[30] Christov-Bakargiev, William Kentridge (1998), p. 12.

[31] William Kentridge, “Mine” (1991), in Christov-Bakargiev, William Kentridge (1998), p. 68.

[32] Kentridge’s interview with Christov-Bakargiev, in Cameron, Christov-Bakargiev, and Coetzee, William Kentridge, pp. 8, 30, 33.

[33] Ibid., p. 35.

[34] This was clearly perceived by psychoanalist Donald W. Winnicott who claimed that creativity “belongs to being alive. It belongs to the aliveness of some animals as well as of human beings.” For Winnicott, “The creative impulse is therefore something that can be looked at as a thing in itself, something that of course is necessary if an artist is to produce a work of art, but also something that is present when anyone―baby, child, adolescent, adult, old man or woman―looks in a healthy way at anything or does anything deliberately.” See Winnicott, “Creativity and its Origins,” in Playing and Reality (1971, Reprint, Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge, 2001) pp. 67-68 and p. 69 (emphasis in original).


[35] On the dynamics of coorigination, codependance, and coarising as pivotal in overcoming dualistic models of knowledge and experience, see Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleonor Rosch, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991).

[36] See Vasari’s definition of disegno in the general introduction to the 1568 edition.  Vasari, Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettettori: Nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568, ed. Rosanna Bettarini (Florence: Sansoni, 1966), vol. 1, p. 111.

[37] Francisco de Hollanda, Diálogos em Roma (1538): Conversations on Art with Michelangelo Buonarroti, ed. Grazia Dolores Folliero-Metz (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1998), p. 93. Hollanda’s reliability has been called into question. For these doubts and the view that the Diálogos are trustworthy whenever consistent with later writers on Michelangelo, such as Vasari, Condivi, and Danti, who didn’t know the Diálogos and reported the artist’s own ideas, see David Summers, Michelangelo and the Language of Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981) pp. 26–27, 466 n. 60. For a discussion of Michelangelo on the universality of disegno, see ibid., pp. 257–61.

[38] André Leroi-Gourhan investigated the nexus between technique and hominization in prehistory in Geste et la parole (1964–65), published in English as Gesture and Speech, trans. Anna Bostok Berger (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993.) For the “invention of man” as coequal with technical inventions, see also Bernard Stiegler, La technique et le temps. I. La Faute d’Épiméthée (Paris: Galilée, 1994), especially pp. 145-187.

[39] Rosalind Krauss credits Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection with inventing another medium by opening a gap with film and stressing the specificity of “a type of drawing . . . extremely reflexive about its own condition.” Krauss, “‘The Rock,’” p. 10. Inspired by Stanley Cavell’s attempt to redeem the idea of medium from its attachment to the physical bases of various arts and think of it in terms of automatisms or artistic discoveries of conventions, genres, and techniques―see Cavell’s “Automatism” in The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), pp. 101–8―Krauss’s argument overlooks the sense of generic creativity conveyed by Kentridge’s understanding of drawing.

[40] As le Corbusier proposed, tapestry is the “muralnomad” of the future. See above note 4, and especially Golan’s comments in “From monument to Muralnomad.” The idea of a “portable” work of art intrigued twentieth-century artists, as in the paradigmatic case of Marcel Duchamp’s several versions of Box in a Valise (1935-1941), one of which is now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but it may also be traced back to medieval and early modern artefacts such as reliquaries, travelling icons, illuminated books of hours, and portrait miniature.


[41] For “anthropogenesis,” or the recreation of one’s own origin, referring not to historical crises but to ordinary experience in contemporary societies and organizations of labor, where human nature must explicate its own conditions of possibility, see Paolo Virno, Quando il verbo si fa carne: Linguaggio e natura umana (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2003), pp. 75–88.

[42] The idea of these paths existing only as they are laid down in walking as well as the possibility of a mindful experience of our own mental life or consciousness were at the core of Francisco Varela’s paradigmatic attempt to bridge the gaps among cognitive sciences, Buddhist meditative psychology, and philosophical traditions of phenomenology. See, among others, Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, The Embodied Mind; Natalie Depraz, Francisco J. Varela, and Pierre Vermersh, On Becoming Aware: A Pragmatics of Experiencing (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2003).