William Kentridge

William Kentridge

on 'The Refusal of Time'

How can we get a hold of time with our body and mind? This question is the crux of South African artist William Kentridge’s immersive installation ’The Refusal of Time.’ Join the artist for a detailed tour of his pulsing, breathtaking work.

‘The Refusal of Time,’ 2012, is an immersive installation and a meditation on time, space and the complex legacies of colonialism and industry. A multi layered work packed to the brim with references - to early cinematic history, and the science and philosophy of time and images - the work combines visually seductive imagery, sculptural objects, megaphones and sound. ”It’s not a scientific lesson in time,” explains the artist. “But it uses the metaphors scientists use when they’re doing their deepest thinking about time.” Therefore references to Einstein’s theory of relativity and figures like black holes - “a space in which everything disappears, a way of talking about death” - feature throughout the work.

Kentridge uses cinema as ”an artistic, mechanical and optical means of playing with time,” to show time materialized. Cinema can slow time down, replay it, hold it, run it backwards, and by employing these techniques of making time visible, the work shows time, and essentially the trudge of a human life, as “a series of predictable, unremarkable actions that continue until we are worn out.” But within that frame there are also refusals says Kentridge. “Those moments of coherence, of understanding and changing the world, which is the most we can hope for.”

Fragmented and futile in its story telling, ‘The Refusal of Time’ also references the painful histories of colonial wars and anti-colonial revolts in the context of time. In the colonial era the imposition of European time in the colonies was a means of control, Kentridge explains. “The resistance towards time became a metaphor for other kinds of resistance towards other forms of political control.” “In the end” – the artist says polemically – ”the project isn’t really about time. It’s much more about to what extent do we escape our fate? To what extent are we heading towards our fate whether we like it or not? Can we change the world on our way or is this all illusory?”

William Kentridge (b. 1955) is a South African filmmaker, draughtsman, and sculptor. He has produced both animation, set design and sculpture as directing operas at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, USA, and the Royal Opera House in London, UK. His work has been shown around the world, e.g. at dOKUMENTA 10, 11 and 13 Kassel, Germany, the 1999 Venice Biennial, Italy, the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, the Louvre, Paris, France, and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark. Kentridge’s work is held in numerous private collections worldwide and he is the recipient of many prestigious awards such as the 1999 Carnegie Medal, the 2010 Kyoto Prize and the 2013 Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres.


William Kentridge's installation 'The Refusal of Time' is a collaboration with composer Philip Miller, filmmaker Catherine Meyburgh & Peter Galison, professor of the history of science and of physics at Harvard University. The work is part of the exhibition ’Thick Time’, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 16 February – 18 June, 2017. William Kentridge’s installation is also part of the Louisiana Collection.

This video also features extracts from 'Making Time', 2011, a film about the making of 'The Refusal of Time', filmed and edited by Catherine Meyburgh.


William Kentridge was interviewed Christian Lund in the installation of ‘The Refusal of Time’, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, in February 2017.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2017

Supported by Nordea-fonden

  • Renzo Piano

    On the Shoulders of Giants

    In-depth biographical interview with the Pritzker prizewinning Italian architect Renzo Piano – known for celebrated buildings such as The Shard and Centre Georges Pompidou – who explains why it’s okay “to steal” as long as you give something back.

  • Bjarke Ingels

    Different Angles

    “Great buildings blatantly express their true essence to the world.” The lauded Danish architect Bjarke Ingels here shares his personal story and his bold approach to architecture, which he feels should always be playful, generous and empathetic.

  • Riad Sattouf

    On 'The Arab of the Future'

    Franco-Syrian Riad Sattouf here discusses his emotionally honest graphic memoir, praised as ”a classic within its genre.” Sparked by the civil war in Syria, it is told from a child’s perspective, humorously balancing between two cultures.

  • Joyce Pensato

    Advice to the Young

    Homer, Mickey, Batman! Joyce Pensato – known for her unique work inspired by cartoon and comic book characters – here advises young artists to keep at it, love what they’re doing and, most importantly, “show your work, get it out there!”

  • Ulay

    Advice to the Young

    “If you want and need inspiration – go behind the central station.” The iconic artist – and self-proclaimed anarchist – Ulay here advises young artists to avoid art institutions and to make works that meet their own needs rather than that of the audience.

  • George Condo

    The Artist at Work

    The mind of American artist George Condo has been referred to as a place where “Picasso meets Looney Tunes.” Watch him at work in his New York-studio where he draws and paints his take on a 19th century painting by Manet.

  • Ulay

    Under My Skin

    This is the story of legendary artist Ulay, famous for his collaboration with Marina Abramović. As a solo artist in search for his identity, Ulay’s radical works have pushed the limits of photography and performance using his own body as material.

  • Olga Tokarczuk

    I Absorb Stories

    Olga Tokarczuk – one of the most important Polish writers of her generation – here shares how she draws inspiration from others: “People tell amazing micro-stories or even bigger stories. I seize them, absorb them and transform them in my books.”

  • Mika Rottenberg

    What is the Connection

    The exceptional video artist Mika Rottenberg here presents her intriguing video installation ‘Cosmic Generator.’ Set on the U.S.-Mexico border and in a huge Chinese market, the work explores the collapse – or reinforcement – of distance.

  • Svetlana Alexievich

    A Human is a Scary Creature

    Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich is known for her monumental non-fiction narratives exploring war and its aftermath in the former Soviet Union. In this video she discusses the role of the writer in a corrupted society permeated by money.

  • Eileen Myles

    A Poem Says 'I Want'

    “I think a poem really is a statement of desire.” Meet the legendary American poet, writer – and homosexual icon – Eileen Myles. In this video, she discusses the innate power of poetry and how to address the absence of the female genitalia.

  • Sambuichi

    One with the Earth's Cycle

    “Architecture should thrive like a plant.” Gain insight into the philosophy of a frontrunner in sustainable architecture, Japanese architect Hiroshi Sambuichi, and hear how he created some of his unique, site-specific buildings.