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The Work of William Kentridge “A Refusal of Time”

The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

The work of William Kentridge “A Refusal of Time” was presented by the artist in 2013 at the Metropolitan Art Gallery. This artist of South African origin and Jewish-Lithuanian descent has a very cosmopolitan worldview and can offer the audience an amalgam of experiences and opinions he’s had of the world and the recent events he had witnessed.


The artist chose a bold and non-trivial way of representing his ideas – this is a five-channel simultaneous video installation with Dolby surround sound. The screen time is 30 minutes for all five parts of the piece. The first thing that catches the eye of the beholder is the monochrome character of the video. The black and white colors make the work look gloomy and dark, and spurring depressing emotions. The second peculiarity of this artwork is the extensive use of obvious geometrical forms. The framework form is rhomb, and it defines the whole mood of the painting quite severely. All other minors and less significant forms are identified by means of a rope or colored stripes.

Symbolism in "A Refusal of Time" Video Installation

“A Refusal of Time” converses with the themes of science, globalization, colonialism, and memory. The central part of the paradigm is taken by the fate of Africa as a continent, as a geopolitical reality, as a cultural identity. The colonialism is presented here as a changeable, fleeting phenomenon that manages to influence the core element (the African reality), but is not able to shift it dramatically. As to the topic of science, Kentridge uses the images of devices such as a telescope, a metronome or a microscope to symbolize processes that can happen. He means processes like integration, disintegration, fractional division of an entity. The author kept in mind the achievement of scientists such as Albert Einstein and Henri Poincar? who were prominent philosophers as well as outstanding natural scientists? The pivotal point of attention in the historical sense is the apartheid and the experience of social perturbation that contributes to it.

Also, this installation contains certain traits of a documentary video. It documents the complicated processes of global meaning. Documentary as a part of the motion pictures is intended to depict certain aspects of reality. Taking into account the fact that documentary is a small part of the non-fiction films; it has to include the opinion, concrete facts, specific message, and background. When the film possesses at least two of these characteristics, it may be thought to be successful. The reason for the documentary appearance is rather clear and weighed. Due to the fact that most of the people got accustomed to the traditional full-footed films with the fictitious plots inside, there is the need for enveloping rather a different pole of the film industry.

Another specific trait of this object is the considerable influence of postmodernism. This can be recognized in the right-hand part of the artwork made in dark colors. It seems to be deliberately negligent and non-cautious but, in fact, these details are often the most grueling in the process of creation (Nichols, p.49). Generally, “A Refusal of Time” is a piece created in abstractionist tradition. This explains why the artist kept himself from exploiting light and shadow and used these tools with great accuracy. The initial purpose of the artist seems to be expressing the subjective and biased expressions left after contemplating the fate of the peoples and countries.

The author is specific about being deprived of influencing the outcome of the film in any way. This movie is beneficial in terms of editing the digital material, which is an unnecessary procedure here. Due to the fact that the observational documentary has the above-mentioned features, the purpose of it is to reproduce the reality as it is and to expose the information, which can be favorable for the general audience perception. The other approach is called the participatory approach, which is the exact opposite of the observational one. If we choose a participatory approach, we are choosing to step out from behind the camera and actively participate in the documentary we are making. The topic is explored through the director’s experience and point-of-view and focuses on persuading the viewer.

Personal Impression

My personal impression from this work is ambiguous but it leaves an unsteady flow of emotions. What one sees here is a really complex form of art, too complex to be able to appear rapidly or unexpectedly. The period of pre-opera development of performance arts encompasses several centuries. Several cultural and societal tendencies can be named as the predecessors and the forerunners of such a form of art. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art has hosted hundreds of pieces of such art (similar in terms of form), but nevertheless not all of them gained such popularity as the “Refusal of Time”.

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However, for me, the most admirable thing about this video work is its profound influence on the mental state, not even the emotional one. First of all, the stories do make a point. When creating new work, the artist should be sure that his message is clear and it can evoke admiration.

Secondly, powerful stories make it memorable. Stories can aid people to remember things effectively. Using memorable and profound communication, we are likely to succeed. Thirdly, we should remember that stories make it meaningful. When we try to understand the plot of the film, we are always aimed to expect a greater context and understanding of the situation. Using stories in order to create meaning for people, we will additionally create individual meaning for everybody. Respectively, if every particular person creates specific meaning, he is also expected to personalize the story of the movie. Apart from having a powerful plot within our film, we should be targeted to invent situations where the emotions could be revealed.

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