The Refusal of Time


The Refusal of Time is a brilliant exhibit by South African artist William Kentridge.   Currently showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (but only through Sunday so get there soon if you want to see it), the work uses drawings, collages, dance and theater moving across five-channels of video projected on large wall panels, music and spoken text, and a central “breathing machine” sculpture to explore time’s mysterious elements — how time shifts and moves, how we try to regulate time, how time is perceived, how the measurement of time has changed over human history, how we “refuse” time.

“Everybody knows that we are going to die,” writes Kentridge, “but the resistance to that pressure coming towards us is at the heart of the project. At the individual level, it was about resisting; not resisting mortality in the hope of trying to escape it, but trying to escape the pressure that it puts on us.”  And politically, “the refusal was a refusal of the European sense of order imposed by time zones; not only literally, but this refusal also referred metaphorically to other forms of control as well.”

Sound deep and interesting?  It is.  The 30 minute video and sound loop is mesmerizing and complex enough that I sat through much of it for a second time.  I wrote down words that were projected or announced that spoke to my own musings about time, which find their way into my writing over and over.

Some samples:  “In praise of bad clocks.”  “Full stop swallows the sentence.”  “Here I am, here I am, here I am.”   “The universal archive of images.”  “Poems I used to know.”  “Performances of transformation.”  “A suitcase of teeth and glass.”  The poetry of this astounding work is profound.

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