Refuse the Hour

A multimedia chamber opera incorporating dance and video alongside a host of mechanical sculptures, Refuse The Hour is an 80-minute long performance piece. This accompanies The Refusal of Time, the artist’s collaboration with Philip Miller, Catherine Meyburgh and Peter Galison, presented by the Goodman Gallery at the Iziko National Gallery in Cape Town until June 2015.

From the Greek legend of Perseus, whose discus accidentally brings about a death – one little action resulting in an irreparable loss – to Einstein’s relative time; the bellows-driven clocks of Paris to the clash of time across cultures, both Refuse The Hour and The Refusal of Time interrogate what turns out to be a fascinating subject.

Against the backdrop of Philip Miller’s extraordinary soundtrack and Gavan Eckhart’s soundscape, William Kentridge’s compelling narrative weaves together science, history and philosophy. On the one hand, our futile battle to prevent the clock from running out – the ultimate ‘full-stop’; on the other, the desire for an end; and throughout, the ability to undo what has been done, to change the past and save the future, as a constant film of images projects our every move eternally into space. Unless, perhaps, it reaches the black abyss…

The project stems from a collaboration between Kentridge and Harvard professor, physicist Peter Galison. According to Galison, both were ‘fascinated by this late 19th century moment when technologies wore their functions on their sleeve… we were both interested in this notion of embodied ideas, of very abstract things worked out in the material world.’

‘One of the things that artists do is take things we know and make them visible,’ says Kentridge in an online interview for Met Collects. ‘So the idea of time, which is completely vague and invisible – there are ways of making it very visible. The film that runs forwards or backwards… [ways] of fracturing time: having two images that are in sync but gradually get out of sync…’ Many of these are in play. Similarly, the sound and choreography emphasise the passing of time, its mutability, its unyielding march onwards.

Refuse The Hour features an international cast of twelve, including former Standard Bank Young Artist for dance Dada Masilo, whose choreography forms a key part of the performance; uniquely versatile vocalist Joanna Dudley – a classically trained musician with the ability to contort her voice into a full spectrum of unexpected sounds; and opera and gospel singer Ann Masina. Both Philip Miller and Kentridge also appear on stage.

‘If you returned to see it several times, each time you’d emerge having resonated with different aspects of the performances, previously unseen shards of the action. Its themes are timeless and also, somehow, pressingly of this moment,’ wrote one reviewer of the performance at Design Indaba.

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