William Kentridge
Untitled (Woman Turning into a Telephone) 2000

Artwork details

Untitled (Woman Turning into a Telephone)
Date 2000
Medium Linocut on paper
Dimensions Support: 2243 x 1198 mm
Acquisition Purchased 2001
Not on display


This large-format print is a linocut in black ink on beige Japanese Kozo paper. The linocut was printed on paper in an edition of twenty-five, of which this is the second. It was published by David Krut, Johannesburg and New York. It has also been printed on canvas in an edition of nine. It depicts a monumentally-scaled woman stepping over a landscape. One leg is raised high over the flat terrain of grassland below. The woman’s shadow darkens part of the ground. Nearby, a small pond is surrounded by reeds and twig-like bushes. At a distance, a geometric wooden fence-like structure provides evidence of human occupation of the land. The woman’s transforming body fills most of the tall frame. Her lower half, draped with a patterned semi-transparent skirt, is human. Her upper half has become an enormous old-fashioned Bakelite telephone and is tilted forward in the direction of her step. Her limbs, like the telephone, are black, the positive spaces of the linocut printing process. The background is highly textured with vertical and horizontal lines in the grassland and sky, resulting in a light-coloured effect. Untitled (Woman Turning into a Telephone) has a partner Untitled (Man Turning into a Tree), a similar monumental figure stepping over a miniature landscape. Both images were printed at Artist’s Proof Studios, Johannesburg.

Kentridge is an accomplished print-maker, having taught etching for two years at the Johannesburg Art Foundation (1978-80) after attending classes as a student there (1976-8). He has made prints in workshops in many countries. Although he is known principally for his series of animated films titled Drawings for Projection (1989-99), which were created from series of charcoal drawings, Kentridge was making prints for some years before he began working in film. He believes that the charcoal drawings used for his films evolved directly from his print-making activities. His recent prints are often distillations of subjects treated in his films. Telephones are recurring elements in Kentridge’s work, as is the theme of transformation. In his films objects metamorphose into other objects in a process which he describes as ‘a state of mind becoming a different state of mind ... [alluding] to the fact that things change and that they are contradictory’ (quoted in William Kentridge 2001, p.68). He uses the image of the old-fashioned Bakelite telephone, rather than its modern equivalent, because it remained the same for many years and has a generic old look. It is the telephone he remembers from his childhood and he uses it ‘as a talisman, to get back to a clarity of sensation that one would have had as a child’ (quoted in William Kentridge 2001, p.71). For him, it is a means of representing the mechanical and therefore visible rather than electronic and invisible. He has said ‘an old mechanical telephone exchange, for me, is an easy way of drawing the points of exchange and of communication that we are all locked into now’ (quoted in William Kentridge 2001, p.71). In this image, replacing the upper half of a woman’s body, the telephone becomes a simultaneously comic and sinister metaphor for the transforming effects of modern civilisation and its forms of communication. The image of a changing body provides a metaphor for the layering of memory and its resulting fluid identity referred to by the artist as ‘the multiplicity of the self passing through time’ (quoted in William Kentridge 2001, p.67), an important theme running through all Kentridge’s work.

Further reading:
Neal Benezra, Staci Boris, Dan Cameron, William Kentridge, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York 2001
Dan Cameron, Carolyn Cristov-Barkagiev, J.M. Coetzee, William Kentridge, London 1999
Carolyn Cristov-Barkagiev, William Kentridge, exhibition catalogue, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels 1998

Elizabeth Manchester
January 2002

About this artwork