Thursday, December 5, 2013

William Kentridge, “The Refusal Of Time” Metropolitan Museum

The typical art world video cave can be sort of creepy; folks skulking about in the dark watching leaves skittering along some grim black & white landscape, while someone slaps raw meat on their head. So it was fortuitous (if not incongruous) to encounter a more rewarding version of the hip video installation format at the MET.
Kentridge’s beehive of astronomical, astrological, post-mechanical, and colonial parodies, swarm around the walls, reminiscent of a Robert Wilson BAM extravaganza. The percussively propulsive score by Phillip Miller, and scientific consensus from Peter L. Galison, a professor of the history of science and of physics at Harvard, round out this ambitious collaboration.

Kentridge’s extensive experience in theater design has served him well here.
A large mechanical contraption made from wood, featuring pistons and valves in motion, dominates the proceeedings. The set is more cavernous than cave, and all who enter are incorporated into the moment. Seating is on vintage classroom chairs, randomly bolted to the floor. Viewers sitting down and getting up, milling around the space, become part of the temporal procession. The audience has become one with the play.
Black and white projections are distributed among the left, right, and front walls, along which are leaning large sections of freestanding panels with coded post-it notes attached that serve has a disjointed screen. The 30-minute loop opens with a tick-tocking metronome and morphs into an animated progression of abstract scribbled script, combined with live action actors portrayed in costumes conjuring up ode’s to surrealistically historical scenarios. Cosmological references to black holes are coupled with astrologically derived symbols drawn on books, leading into map overlays that could be metaphors for time-space. There is a throwback feel of silent movie gestures, and Muybridge sequences, which effectively integrates past and present with a seamless flow. 


Overall the visuals are compelling, and despite some overtly obvious references to Kara Walker, create effective sub texts relating to colonialism and apartheid. (Kentridge is from S Africa, and his parents were the equivalent of civil rights lawyers.) But what really makes this production click is the soundtrack. Heavily infused with tuba, what I’d guess is a base baritone sax, then injected with a strong dose of tribal imperative percussion, and sewn together within a digital polyphonic fabric, the musical dialogue becomes integral to the sensory totality.
This pseudo tragicomedy is memorable for its multi-faceted inputs. Plugged-in to a mega range of media, Refusal Of Time enthusiastically encompasses an epic sweep of entertainingly jumbled notions of cause and effect.


1 comment:

  1. An excellent appraisal, and I'm sorry that I missed it on a recent visit. You referred to the tiresome prospect of other videos that show "leaves skittering along some grim black & white landscape," perhaps inspired by the contemporaneous little show at the Met, "Everyday Epiphanies
    Photography and Daily Life Since 1969," through January 26th, that includes this little ditty, which I must say I enjoyed.