Press Release


The ICA opens William Kentridge’s The Refusal of Time on Feb. 5


(Boston—Jan. 27, 2014) The Refusal of Time is an immersive, multimedia film installation by South African artist William Kentridge created in collaboration with historian of science Peter Galison, composer Philip Miller, and video filmmaker Catherine Meyburgh. Among Kentridge’s most complex and ambitious works to date, the film explores our grasp of time in its various manifestations—from the first synchronization of clocks that took place in the 19th century through Albert Einstein’s understanding of relativity and current ideas surrounding black holes and string theory. The Refusal of Time combines music, spoken word, dance, drawings, and text to bring Kentridge’s questioning of the notion of time to the fore. The film installation is accompanied by a selection of the artist’s drawings and prints. Organized by Helen Molesworth, Barbara Lee Chief Curator, The Refusal of Time is on view at the ICA from Feb. 5 through May 4, 2014.

Born from conversations between Kentridge and Galison, The Refusal of Time focuses on the conception of time from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, a period during which Europeans attempted to standardize time around the world. The film takes place across five projected screens that surround a “breathing machine” in the center of the room. Kentridge calls the mechanism an “elephant,” an allusion to Charles Dickens’s 1854 novel, Hard Times, in which the piston of a steam engine moves “up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.” The awkward pumping and heaving contraption also refers to a nineteenth-century Parisian method of regulating clocks by pumping air through tubes buried underneath the streets.

The installation weaves together several vignettes, one of which references the standardization of Greenwich Mean Time—the means by which the British coordinated clocks throughout their massive empire. Kentridge and Galison are interested in how this control of time was used as a tool of colonial domination. Hence, the “refusal of time” is in large part a refusal of imperialism. In 1905, Albert Einstein publicized his theory of special relativity, which postulated that under the right circumstances, time could pass at different speeds for different people, undermining the colonial idea that time could be standardized for all.

The Refusal of Time combines Kentridge’s vibrant moving-image work— including stop-motion animation of charcoal drawings and paper cutout figures as well as original live-action film—with a soundscape by South African composer Philip Miller. For the video projections, Kentridge collaborated with filmmaker Catherine Meyburgh as well as choreographers and stage designers to create animations and live-action sequences, including the final “shadow procession” that ends the 30-minute work.

Related Program
The Artist's Voice: William Kentridge and Peter Galison in conversation moderated by Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee
Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 7 pm

South African artist William Kentridge’s prolific and socially conscious work often addresses difficult themes such as apartheid, colonialism, and time, as seen in ICA’s exhibition. Join the artist, historian of science Peter Galison, and Sebastian Smee, in an evening of engaging conversation about art, science, and collaboration. Free tickets are required and available on the day of the program; first-come, first-served.

Media Preview
Media are invited to preview the exhibition on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 9:30 am. RSVP to Colette Randall at

Support for William Kentridge: The Refusal of Time is provided by Kate and Charles Brizius; Paul and Katie Buttenwieser; Vivien and Alan Hassenfeld and the Hassenfeld Family Foundation; Hal and Jodi Hess; and Charles and Fran Rodgers. 


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