William Kentridge b. 1955
The Refusal of Time (Prologue) – Anti-Mercator (2011)
South African artist William Kentridge and Harvard physics professor Peter Galison are the protagonists of “The Refusal of Time – Prologue,” the latest in a series of exhibitions staged by Le Laboratoire. Galison conducts research into the paradigm shifts that inform our understanding of simultaneity and time, while Kentridge’s films foreground fragmentation and synchronicity. Both question temporal constraints––a theme developed in the course of their discussions and brought out in this compelling, if occasionally didactic, exhibition.

Through objects, sculptures, drawings, and films, the show retraces three defining historical moments. A pair of pneumatic clocks on loan from a science museum allude to the first moment, Newton’s concept of universal time. Once connected to the network of pipes that transported compressed air beneath the streets of nineteenth-century Paris in order to synchronize the city’s public timepieces, the clocks here materialize chronological uniformity in the era of industrialization. Evoking the shift to the second stage—Einstein’s theory of relativity—the kinetic sculptures nearby are activated by handles turned by the viewer at his or her own rhythm. Transposing this theme onto space, a charcoal and gouache drawing on a wall, which forms part of Towards the Black Wall Procession, 2010, displays the word ANTI-MERCATOR. It contests the distorting effect of the sixteenth-century maps that became standard cartographic projections––and are still in use today.

These and other spatiotemporal preconceptions are superimposed and interwoven in an alluring filmic meditation on standardization and irreversibility titled The Refusal of Time (Prologue) – Anti Mercator, 2011. Here, scattered flecks of charcoal magically revert to the coffeepot shape they formed before being dispersed, while a dancer wearing a globe-shaped costume symbolizes resistance against the flatness of the Mercator. Finally, another drawing from Towards the Black Wall Procession references the third moment, the theory of black holes which are thought to destroy spatiotemporality altogether: It shows a procession of people inexorably marching toward their death. Only through metaphor can art and science attempt to make manifest the elusive and ever-evolving notion of time.

— Rahma Khazam