Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation

William Kentridge, Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot, Episode 1: A Natural History of the Studio (still), 2022. HD Video, 22: 03 minutes. Courtesy of William Kentridge Studio.

April 8, 2024
William Kentridge
April 17–November 24, 2024
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Professional preview days: April 15–16, 11am–7pm
Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation
1430/A Riva dei Sette Martiri
30122 Venice

Curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.

For this exhibition at Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation in Venice, William Kentridge, renowned for his animated drawings for projection, as well as his sculpture, theatre and opera productions over the last forty years, collaborates with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, friend and author of the foundational monograph on his work published in 1998, to premiere his intriguing new nine-episode video series, SELF-PORTRAIT AS A COFFEE-POT. This exhibition of thirty-minute episodes by Kentridge, originally intended as a series for online viewing, is an experiment in embodiment and phenomenological experience in the digital age, and a reflection on what might happen in the brain and in the studio of an artist, today.

Shot in his Johannesburg studio during and in the aftermath of the 2020–2022 Covid-19 pandemic, and completed in 2023, SELF-PORTRAIT AS A COFFEE-POT will be viewed in a unique concentrated environment that partially recreates the studio where the works were made. 

“In this series, William Kentridge’s studio functions as an enlarged head, a chamber for thoughts where all the physical drawings, painting, photographs and detritus become these embodied thoughts,” says Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. “Kentridge’s art is rooted in South Africa, where he continues to live and create most of his work. It stems from an attempt to address the nature of human emotions and memory, as well as the relationship between knowledge, desire, ethics, and responsibility. His is an elegiac yet humorous art that explores the possibilities of poetry in contemporary society, even in the absence of utopian visions for the future, and provides an acerbic commentary on our society, while proposing a way of seeing life as a continuous process of change and uncertainty rather than as a controlled world of facts. These works are a hymn to artistic freedom, ominously revealing the lack of freedom typical of our enclosed spaces in the digital era. They also foreground how the activity of mark-making with materials constructs the self in the process of making. They are exercises to expand and improve human intelligence in our era where the prosthetics of AI and the increasing use of social media ultimately atrophy our cognitive and emotional abilities. Subjectivity today is characterised by forms of narcissistic melancholy, due to the ‘selfie’ nature of digital media and its distracted character (from dis-trahere, to pull in another direction) as we move away from one message and fragment of data to another, endlessly forgetting while ‘remembering’ easily thanks to a slew of satellites above our heads. This hybrid aspect—fractured while seamlessly omnipotent—is echoed by the double nature of Kentridge’s collages in this series. His alter egos and doppelgängers debate a series of issues: how does memory work? What makes the self? One might interpret this as a reversal of the obsessive narcissistic split personalities of our era of avatars on social media into forms of quiet psychoanalysis. While the doubling of two or more images of the artist is perfectly rendered digitally, Kentridge opts for an overall choppy editing of different scenes in the studio, during the day or at night. These disjunctures and cuts switch our attention from one thought or scene to another, echoing our fractured, rushing selves, unable to stop the rubble and detritus of data from piling up. We smile, however, each time a little group of benevolent paper rats comes onto the scene.”

During the opening week of the Venice Biennale, from Monday, April 15 to Friday, April 19, Kentridge and Christov-Bakargiev will converse over a late-night whisky from 11pm–00am with special guests. This series of Midnight Whisky Talks presents improvisational philosophical dialogues that take place physically in a domestic space with anti-high art situationist documents and artworks from the 1950s and 60s. Midnight Whisky Talks will take place daily and live streamed at 11pm CET on Instagram @williamkentridgestudio. Details on how to attend in person will be revealed in Venice at the exhibition.

Kentridge will also speak at Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia on Friday, April 19 from 11am to 12:30pm in the historical Aula Magna Silvio Trentin at Palazzo Ca’ Dolfin.

With thanks to Wolfgang Scheppe, founding Director of Arsenale Institute, and Marie Letz.
The exhibition is supported by Goodman GalleryLia Rumma Gallery and Hauser & Wirth.

Created and directed by William Kentridge
Executive Producers: Rachel Chanoff and Noah Bashevkin of THE OFFICE PERFORMING ARTS + FILM, Joslyn Barnes of LOUVERTURE FILMS, in association with LUMA Foundation, Genuine Article Pictures and Syzygy Foundation
Co-Executive Producers: Brenda Potter, Danny Glover, Susan Rockefeller, Maja Hoffmann, Maida Lynn, and Linda Dodwell

Editing for the series was supervised by Walter Murch. Edited by Janus Fouché, Žana Marović, and Joshua Trappler, Assistant Editor Octavia Sonyane, Director of Photography Duško Marović, S.A.S.C, First Assistant Director Chris-Waldo de Wet, Additional Camera & Key Grip Jacques van Staden, Camera Assistant Diego Sillands, Associate Producers Caroleen Feeney, Wendy Fisher, Wendy vanden Heuvel, and Sarah d’Hanens.

Global film distributor and streaming service MUBI has acquired exclusive worldwide streaming rights for the series.

International Communication: Henriette Gallus, communication [​at​] carolynchristov.com
Italian Press office: Anna Gilardistilemapress [​at​] stilema-to.it

Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation
April 8, 2024

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