William Kentridge, Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot, Episode 5: As If, 2022 / Video still / Courtesy William Kentridge Studio
William Kentridge: Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot
Apr 17 – Nov 24, 2024
Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation
Venice, Italy

For his new exhibition at the Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation in Venice, William Kentridge, a South African artist known for the past four decades for his animated shorts, sculptures, and theater and opera productions, in collaboration with curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, a friend and author of the seminal monograph on his work published in 1998, is premiering the evocative new nine-episode video series entitled Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot. This exhibition, structured in short thirty-minute episodes and originally designed to be enjoyed as an online series, on cell phones or television, is an experiment in physical embodiment and phenomenological experience of the real in the digital age, as well as a reflection on what might be happening in an artist’s brain and studio today.

Innovative arthouse film distribution house MUBI has acquired global streaming rights to the nine-episode series, created and directed by William Kentridge, produced by Rachel Chanoff and Noah Bashevkin of The Office Performing Arts + Film, Joslyn Barnes of Louverture Films and the William Kentridge Studio, and curated by Walter Murch, Janus Fouché and Žana Marović.

Filmed in his studio during and after the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020–22 and completed in 2023, these works will be seen in a dense, unique environment that partially recreates the Johannesburg studio where they were made. “The filming began during the first lockdown and the studio mimicked the enclosed spaces of the Covid,” says William Kentridge, “but the studio is also an expanded head, a chamber of thoughts and reflections where all the drawings, photos, and remnants on the studio walls become these same thoughts.”

As a physical exhibition space, the same size as his studio, the installation becomes a lived place between a private and a public space; between the studio of a solitary artist deeply immersed in self-reflection and the joyful space of childlike play and collaboration with others. These works, intended primarily for online, mobile device or television enjoyment, are an ode to artistic freedom, while prophetically noting the lack of freedom typical of our enclosed spaces in the digital age. They also highlight how the very activity of making marks with materials constructs the self in the process of creation. Moreover, the relationship between painting and sheet music, as well as between dance and drawing, becomes a form of mental gymnastics or yoga for the brain, exercises to expand and enhance human intelligence in our age when the prostheses of artificial intelligence and the increasing use of social media end up dangerously atrophying our cognitive and emotional capacities.

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