I was hugely disappointed to not be able to attend the opening of William Kentridge: Thick Time at the end of September. Work commitments, children’s parties and general life admin took over and before long it was mid-November and we still hadn’t made it to the Whitechapel Gallery for this acclaimed exhibition by the South African artist.
Drawing inspiration from across the entire arts spectrum, from early black and white cinema to animation, puppetry and literature, with content universally suitable for all and set out at scale in 6 installation-style rooms, this exhibition showed a lot of promise for family visitors.
After pondering the intriguing (yet static) Untitled, Bicycle Wheel (2012) for a moment, we could hear exciting things happening just around the corner. Heeding the caution from the gallery staff regarding the volume of musical accompaniment, we were met by The Refusal of Time (2012); a multi-sensory installation centered around a loom-like generator, whose audio intensity might feel somewhat intimidating for the very young.
We joined the installation at the point where the metronomes began to gather pace alongside the industrial sized breathing sculpture, drowning the room in hypnotic sound and building to a crescendo so irresistible, we were quickly drawn in to keep time. By this point my young companion (age 3) needed to escape, yet the hypnotic nature of this installation meant that she continued to drag me back at least three times, allowing us ten more minutes of the total thirty minute mediation on time and space.
Moving past the giant tapestries (which were a surprise hit), we huddled into a cosy corner to watch Second-hand Reading (2013), a mesmerising flip book film of illustrations which sprung to life on the pages of the Short Oxford English Dictionary, all accompanied by a dreamy soundtrack reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky.
Don’t miss the cleverly doctored staircase as you head up to the brilliant (but slightly creepy) miniature model theatre, Right Into Her Arms 2016. You’ll no doubt be side tracked by the social sculpture on the stairwell, a permanent exhibit which never seems to tire as a secret hideaway for younger ones exploring the space.
It’s the second floor where things get really playful; not just in the form of a sensor activated sewing machine for those who get too close, but in the intriguing array of doors which pay host to Kentridge’s politically charged O Sentimental Machine (2015) – a five-channel video installation with four megaphones. The doors are obviously out of bounds, but visitors are welcome to contemplate this atmospheric montage of historical events on the rug or the chairs provided.
There’s nothing more fascinating than watching an artist at work, and the show culminates with our personal highlight from Gallery 9, a 9-channel video installation, capturing the creator. Here, work is both created and uncreated, from magical vanishing murals to child-like animations such as Journey to the Moon, this work feels so alive, we were convinced that when the artist comically climbs a ladder in 7 Fragments, he would pop right out of the top of the screen and right into the room beside us. Every screen captured my little one’s imagination, so much so that it gifted me at least ten minutes to absorb what was on offer here and even more time enjoy and discuss it together.
Exciting to navigate and highly visual, Thick Time has the feel of a curious and quirky sideshow that you’ll never want to end. Enjoyably noisy and endlessly entertaining, this exhibition just keeps on giving, and for once you’ll have the luxury of being able to soak it up in a ‘low risk’ set up, perfect for those visiting with kids of any age.
Whilst The Infinite Mix has been the highlight of our arts calendar this year, this audio visual extravaganza comes a very close second. So don’t drag your feet to the tune of a super-slow accordion, get yourself there quick, before it all ends on 15th January.
William Kentridge: Thick Time is at the Whitchapel Gallery until 15th January 2017
77-82 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX
Tuesday to Sunday 11am-6pm, Thursday 11am-9pm, Closed on Monday
Admission from £11.95, children under 16 free, concessions available
Whilst you’re there: Alicja Kwade’s Medium Median makes a brilliant compliment to the celestial aspects of Kentridge’s work. This mobile installation features twenty four 21st century mobile handsets revolving in 3D, vocalising passages from Genesis as the sky charts receive information from GPS satellites on the current locations of stars.
What’s nearby? A few doors down, the brilliant and spacious Grounded does great coffee, superb breakfasts, healthy salads and yummy cakes. The team are welcoming and extremely family friendly. Spitalfields City Farm is also a short walk away.