Unreal Nature

August 15, 2015

From Its Flatness to Its Depth and Heft

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… It is in the very limitations and leanness of shadows that we learn …

Continuing through Six Drawing Lessons: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2012 by William Kentridge (2014):

… what sticks in the throat, what must be resisted, is the passivity, the image of people waiting to be rescued, as though nothing can be understood without the philosopher with his big stick. To do this we must pause in the cave.

The associations with Plato’s allegory continue. There is an extraordinary contemporaneity to his metaphor. The shadows on the wall are a procession. Not just people moving across space, but a procession of people carrying objects. They have no specific origin or destination, they pass across behind the viewers. This again feels a completely contemporary phenomenon. The flickering projections we see in the news of people fleeing floods, civil war, refugees, migrations, refugees returning, displacements — still, two and a half thousand years later, so largely on foot, individual human power still the central means of locomotion, handcarts, wheelbarrows, shopping carts the only aids.

… It is in the very limitations and leanness of shadows that we learn, in the gaps, in the leaps to complete an image, that we perform a generative act of constructing the shape — recognizing a horse, a box, a bed roll, a crutch, a typewriter. The very leanness of the illusion pushes us to complete the recognition — and this prompts an awareness of the activity, recognizing in this activity our agency in seeing, and our agency in apprehending the world.

… This is what we miss in Plato.


Not just the obvious agency in making, but the possible agency also in seeing. The understanding of that which is not seen, and being aware of the limits of seeing. And being caught up, as with the image of the horse: being fooled, seeing the typewriter and knowing we are being fooled, by being made aware of our part in the construction of the image; of our part in the construction of the illusion, but most importantly, of the activity of ourselves. It is in the gap between the object and its representation that this energy emerges, the gap we fill in, in the shift from the monochromatic shadow to the color of the object, from its flatness to its depth and heft.

Allowing us to be neither the prisoners in the cave, unable to comprehend what we see, nor the all-seeing philosopher returning with his certainty. But allowing us to inhabit the terrain in between, the space between what we see on the wall and what we conjure up behind our retinas.


My most recent previous post from Kentridge’s book is here.




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