Meg Koerner: You had both been working on the subject of time for many years. How did The Refusal of Time come about?
Peter Galison: We were both fascinated by this late nineteenth-century moment when technologies wore their functions on their sleeve, so to speak; they hadn’t sunk their structure into chips and black boxes. One of the things that has made working together so appealing has been that we were both interested in this notion of embodied ideas, of very abstract things worked out in the material world.
Meg Koerner: Can you tell me what an “embodied idea” would be in your case?
William Kentridge: There are certain objects which I have come to as someone making drawings, objects that meet the drawing half way. If you take an old Bakelite telephone, its blackness is already half way to being a charcoal drawing. But more than that, once you are drawing it, there is a set of associations that come from old, manual, mechanical switchboard telephones. If you think of a switchboard, there is a cord that would connect the caller and the receiver, and the representation of it looks like a black line drawn across the holes of the switchboard. In my case, of drawing and animation, something that is now perhaps invisible—connecting people across phone lines across continents—is rendered in a very visible way, and may even be a description of an obsolete process. It is not so much being fascinated with the ideas of the late nineteenth century, but that it was still such a “visible” era, in a way in which an electronic era is not. Even if one is talking about contemporary phenomena, very often an older representation is a better way of drawing it.