SFMOMA + Metropolitan Museum jointly acquired William Kentridge installation

Commissioned originally for Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, The Refusal of Time (2012) comprises five separate video channels that are projected around the room and a layered soundscape by the renowned South African composer Philip Miller, which emits from various megaphones, each with a different soundtrack. Central to the work is a large kinetic sculpture—the “breathing machine” or “elephant”—an organ-like automaton with a pumping bellows. For the video projections, Kentridge collaborated with choreographers, filmmakers, and stage designers to create animations and live-action sequences, including the final “shadow procession” that ends the 30-minute work. Kentridge’s recent interest in the nature of time was given focus through the work of Harvard-based historian of science Peter Galison, who studied Albert Einstein’s experiments with the measurement of time through telegraphs and the synchronization of clocks at national railway stations. In Galison’s view, Einstein’s work converged with that of Henri Poincaré, the late-19th-century French mathematician and president of the Bureau des Longitudes, who developed global time zone maps at the dawn of the 20th century. Both scientists were forced to face the radical idea that, in a newly industrialized and interconnected world, time was relative and not absolute. Throughout the installation, Kentridge refers to a number of additional historical accounts in order to evoke multiple theories of time—a strategy that also poetically embodies a refusal of certainty and a resistance to an imposition of an imperialistic sense of order.

The Refusal of Time (installation view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), 2012. Five-channel video with sound, megaphones, and breathing machine (‘elephant’), 30 minutes

The Refusal of Time (installation view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), 2012. Five-channel video with sound, megaphones, and breathing machine (‘elephant’), 30 minutes

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