Whitechapel Gallery opens a major exhibition of the South African artist including works never before seen in the United Kingdom.
“Thick Time” at London-based Whitechapel Gallery, co-produced with the Louisiana Museum of Art in Denmark and the Museum der Moderne Salzburg in Austria, examines the ways in which time and place have been manipulated during colonial and industrial expansion, as well as notions of control exercised during periods of great political upheaval.
“Thick Time”, William Kentridge’s current exhibition opened at London’s Whitechapel Gallery on 21 September, reveals the outputs of his investigations into numerous “immovable rocks”, namely colonialism, racial capitalism and revolution. Co-curated by Iwona Blazwick, Director of Whitechapel Gallery, and Sabine Breitwieser, Director of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg.
“Thick Time” runs until 15 January 2017 at Whitechapel Gallery. Subsequently, it will exhibit in Denmark at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art from 16 February to 18 June 2017, in Austria at the Museum der Moderne Kunst Salzburg from 22 July to 5 November 2017 and then at Whitworth Art Gallery at the University of Manchester in 2018.
Kentridge’s “immovable rocks”
Multimedia artist William Kentridge (b. 1955, Johannesburg) is no stranger to the international art world and has been producing and exhibiting work since the 1970s. Coming of age as the South African apartheid regime was slowly and violently being destroyed, Kentridge developed a lens that reflected his acute awareness of his environs and the politics, and sought to speak of what he referred to in a recent Financial Times article as the “immovable rock of apartheid”. Hedley Twidle, the author of the FT article, writes:
To escape the rock, he wrote in 1990, was the great challenge for the artist in those days, for “the rock is possessive, and inimical to good work”: “You cannot face the rock head-on; the rock always wins.”
Themes germane to South African society and particular politics feature frequently and broadly in his work. Kentridge’s oeuvre has been seen in major exhibitions, museums and galleries around the world since the 1990s, including Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1997, 2003, 2012), the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1998, 2010), Jeu de Paume in Paris (2010) and the Musée du Louvre in Paris (2010), where he presented “Carnets d’Egypte”, a project conceived especially for the Egyptian Room.
Kentridge’s practice has also crossed over into the area of music with notable productions such as The Magic Flute, which was presented in 2011 at Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, Festival d’Aix and La Scala in Milan. The artist has been the recipient of numerous prizes, honorary degrees and honorary memberships in prestigious organisations, namely he was the 2010 winner of the Kyoto Prize, 2011 recipient of the degree of Doctor of Literature honoris causa from the University of London, named as Commandeur des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication and in 2013, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts by Yale University.
The exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery includes six works all of which were created between 2003 and 2016. Three of the works are film pieces: The Refusal of Time (2012) and O Sentimental Machine (2015), which have never previously been exhibited in the United Kingdom, and Second-hand Reading (2013), a series of mural-scale tapestries based on his opera production of Shostakovich’s The Nose and a set model for the opera production Lulu (2016), which Kentridge will direct at the English National Opera in November 2016.
O Sentimental Machine (2015) is the final piece of the exhibition and was originally commissioned for SALTWATER, the 14th Istanbul Biennial. It includes subtitled videos of Trotsky’s speeches and also his time in Istanbul while in exile. These images are projected onto glass doors on either side of the installation, offering the viewer the opportunity to observe what is going on behind the closed doors.
By providing this inside view, Kentridge challenges Trotsky’s idea that people are “sentimental but programmable machines”. If the viewer has the agency to look inside, to see what was previously, then the viewer is equally as capable of making decisions about not only what he has seen but who decided that he should be able to see it.
The Refusal of Time (2012) was inspired by a series of conversations between Kentridge and American scientist Peter Galison concerning theories of time, as the exhibition press release expounds:
the work is an extraordinary synthesis of moving images, sound and performance. A breathing sculpture or ‘elephant’ at its heart is based on 19th century attempts to measure and control time during the industrial revolution and high point of European colonial expansion. First shown at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany, The Refusal of Time is a collaboration between the artist with composer Philip Miller, projection designer and editor Catherine Meyburgh, and Peter Galison, a scientist from the United States.
Negarra A. Kudumu
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