William Kentridge: Creative Machines

Noémia Herdade-Gomes and Francisco Providência

William Kentridge puts to use a diversity of ‘creative machines’ in making work. He methodologically rethinks drawing, as an unfinished process, a means of collecting and generating iconography (mediated by different technologies), with the aim of maximizing narrative amplitude that goes beyond the limits of graphic representation by resorting to sound and cinematography.

In researching his work, we propose a ‘documental taxonomy’ to identify different strategies employed by the artist in arriving at images and ideas. These four films are a demonstration essay of the contents for a forthcoming book which focuses on the interpretation of Kentridge’s work as a system of creative machines for the production of art (through drawing), which we think could contribute to other creative areas.

In the tradition of Western culture of a drawing produced with the aid of machines to ‘re-present’ (reproduce) Kentridge develops a technological park of creative machines to ‘make present’ (produce) thus inverting the classical submission to the model, opening the experience of drawing to the participation of the other and of chance.

The ideas presented here are based on the doctoral thesis of Noémia Herdade-Gomes, carried out under the supervision of Lidia Gorriz at the University of Barcelona and the support of Francisco Providência of the University of Aveiro, focusing on the interactions and extensions in the process, project, and artistic work of Kentridge, starting from Drawing – having obtained the Extraordinary Doctoral Prize of the University of Barcelona in 2013.

The research had the particularity of being carried out in direct contact with Kentridge’s studio in Johannesburg between 2006 and 2010. The survey, classification, and availability of approximately 5,500 documents collected in the studio and under the supervision of the artist, gave rise to an extensive digital database developed by Herdade-Gomes, which is the basis of the studio’s live database of work, in active use today.

This investigation enabled the construction of a global perception of Kentridge’s creative methodologies, allowing to isolate a set of technologies or creative machines that constitute, by themselves, an unusual heritage of means, strategies, and procedures, converging in unique creative results.


Machine 1 - Image Capture Device or Photographic Camera

Machine 2 - Machine for Seeing or Tripod Machine

Machine 3 - Imagination Machine or Truca Machine

Conception of films: Noémia Herdade-Gomes with Cunha Pimentel and Francisco Providência

Conception of texts: Noémia Herdade-Gomes and Francisco Providência

Co-editor & consultant: Anne Mcllleron

English translation: Matthew Salt

Video editing and montage: Cunha Pimentel

Voiceover: Jessica Jones

Additional assistance: Natalie Dembo and Joshua Trappler

Special thanks to Anne Mcllleron and William Kentridge

This work is financed by national funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., under the project “UIDB/00145/2020.

CEAU Center for Studies in Architecture and Urbanism, Faculty of Architecture, University of Porto

ID+ Institute for Research in Design, Media and Culture, University of Aveiro

August 2023