Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday Artist: William Kentridge on Time

[M]oments of coherence, of understanding and changing
the world, [are] the most we can hope for.
~ William Kentridge

Five years ago, South African draughtsman, sculptor, and filmmaker William Kentridge created a fascinating, immersive, five-channel installation, The Refusal of Time (2012). Synchronized video projections show live action, animation, and dance; audio feeds comprise both music and sound; a kinetic sculpture (dubbed "the elephant") "breathes". Visual images and megaphones also are featured.

As Kentridge explains in the video below, the piece visualizes time while at the same time upsetting our notions of how we mark time's passage. The installation "uses the metaphors scientists use when they're doing their deepest thinking about time." It is not, however, "a scientific lesson in time"; rather, Kentridge says, "It's much more about to what extent do we escape our fate? To what extent are we heading towards our fate[,] whether we like it or not? Can we change the world on our way or is this all illusory?" The Refusal of Time references not only the science and the philosophy of time but also colonial wars and revolts, cinematic history, Einstein's theory of relativity, Greenwich Mean Time, and South African theatre. 

Kentridge was interviewed by Christian Lund when the artist's work, a joint acquisition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, opened in February of this year at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, where it continues on view through June 18. Featured in the video are excerpts from Making Time, Catherine Meyburgh's 2011 film about the creation of The Refusal of Time.

An artist whose work is exhibited internationally and found in museum collections throughout the world, Kentridge is well-known for his animated films based on charcoal drawings. A printmaker, he also works in photography, collage, and books; designs stage sets; and has produced and directed opera. A witness to the dismantling in the 20th Century of apartheid in South Africa, Kentridge uses art to explore such subjects as time's expansion and contraction, colonialism and totalitarianism, and the consequences of political control and oppression. Among Kentridge's most recent projects is the Centre for the Less Good Idea, an arts foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa, that he describes as a "safe space for uncertainty, doubt, stupidity and, at times, failure." (Read Cristina Ruiz's article "Kentridge Opens Johannesburg Space for Artists to Learn by Failing" in The Art Newspaper, April 13, 2017.)

The publication William Kentridge | The Refusal of Time (Editions Xavier Barral;Har/Bklt, 2013) is available through booksellers.

William Kentridge at Art21 and Barbara Krakow Gallery

William Kentridge on The Refusal of Time at SFMoMA. The installation was shown at the museum from December 16, 2016, through April 2, 2017. The video was produced by the Metropolitan Musuem of Art.

Watch a video on the SFMoMA Website that shows how Kentridge reworks charcoal drawings to create stop-motion animations. Also see the YouTube video Pain & Sympathy, from Art21, in which Kentridge discusses how artists draw on tragedy as subject matter and how the act of drawing can itself be an act of compassion.

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