William Kentridge – Making a Horse

William Kentridge
Universal Archive (Horse), 2012

“We take a group of torn black pieces of paper. At first, they are a group of black shapes on a white sheet of paper, perhaps with an association to Robert Motherwell, then we move them about and we rearrange them. Now, is this about a generosity of viewing, or are we unable to stop ourselves from seeing in them a shape, a form, a horse. No, this is more than a willing suspension of disbelief in which we know we are seeing torn pieces of paper but pretend to see a horse. It’s much more than that. We cannot help ourselves from seeing the horse. It takes an effort, a wilful blindness, to keep the images as torn sheets of black paper. Or, to be more accurate, to see them as only torn sheets of paper. We see them both. We are not fooled. The horse and the paper are both there. This is an unwilling suspension of disbelief.

When we say there is a horse, we mean that there is something on the paper which triggers the recognition of HORSE in us. There is an important distinction between knowing and recognising. If you were to ask someone to make a drawing of a horse rearing on its hind legs, this is not easy, unless you are Delacroix. I mean, how far under the rump do the hooves have to go? What is the connection between the angle of the mandible and the wing of the atlas? What is the relationship of the withers to the crest and the shoulder of the horse? How much curve in the spine can the weight of the belly sustain? What is the articulation of the gaskin to the fetlock? But move the pieces of paper and adjust them and the horse rears up for us, something we don’t know we know, something we can recognize without knowing.

This pressure for meaning, for taking fragments and completing an image is present not only in looking at shadows but in everything that we see. Seeing the horse here becomes a metaphor for all the images and all the ways we apprehend the world. And even as the shapes are reduced and the image simplifies, we have the horse with us.

Even as it becomes a single glyph, we see a horse in its fragments and we reconstruct a Rocinante from them.

Inside, there is a sense of horse or horse-ness waiting to be triggered. Rocinante, Bucephalus, the Trojan horse, Stubbs, the photo finish of a horse race are all there. Now this is a dual process. The sheet of paper comes towards us, and our own sense of horse goes out towards it. We meet the world halfway. The sheet of paper with its black shapes on it have become a membrane through which we see the world. This is both obvious and surprising. The drawing becomes a meeting point, but also a threshold where the outside world comes towards us, where the outside world meets Stubbs, Rocinante, the encyclopaedic entries, memories of horse riding, memories of falling off a horse, being dragged, foot in stirrup, along the ninth fairway of a golf course, in the Sani Pass holiday resort, at ten years of age.

In some silent, invisible vestibule of the brain, the images are caught, apprehended, interrogated, and sent, brushed up, to the resting place as a horse. The sheet of paper is simply a visible extension of the retina, an emblematic demonstration of that which we know but cannot see. Our projection, our moving out towards the image is an essential part of what it is to see, to be in the world with our eyes open.

To bring this back to Plato’s cave: the recognition of the shapes on the wall is not a mistake, an aberration of people caught by an illusion, but an essential part of how all parts of the world are apprehended and comprehended.”

From William Kentridge: Six Drawing Lessons: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2012

Published by Harvard University Press, 2014; pp16-19.

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