William Kentridge to Premiere ‘Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot’ in Venice

12 March 2024

An exhibition curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev at Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation, Venice on view from 17 April through 24 November 2024

For his new exhibition at Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation in Venice, South African artist William Kentridge, renowned for his animated drawings for projection, as well as his sculpture, theater and opera productions over the last forty years, collaborates with curator 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 that were primarily created 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.

The nine-episode series was created and directed by William Kentridge, executive produced by Rachel Chanoff and Noah Bashevkin of The Office Performing Arts + Film, Joslyn Barnes of Louverture Films and the William Kentridge Studio. Walter Murch supervised the editing by South African digital artist Janus Fouché and Kentridge's regular collaborators Žana Marović and Joshua Trappler.

Still from Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot, Episode 4: Finding One’s Fate, 2022, HD Video, 31 min 02 sec © William Kentridge. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2024. Courtesy the artist, Goodman Gallery and Hauser & Wirth

Shot in his Johannesburg studio during and in the aftermath of the 2020 – 2022 COVID-19 pandemic, and completed in 2023, these works will be viewed in a unique concentrated environment that partially recreates the studio where they were made. ‘Filming began in the first lockdown and the studio mimicked the closed spaces of COVID,’ states Kentridge, ‘but the studio is also an enlarged head, a chamber for thoughts and reflections where all the drawings, photos and detritus on the walls become these thoughts.’

As a physical exhibition space, the same size as his studio, this installation becomes a place between a private and a public space, the studio of a solitary artist deeply immersed in self-reflection and the joyous space of childhood play and of collaboration with others. These works, intended ultimately for online, mobile or television viewing, 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. Furthermore, the relationship between painting and musical scores, as well as between dance and drawing, become a form of mental gymnastics or yoga for the brain, exercises to expand and improve human intelligence in our era where the prosthetics of AI and the increasing use of social media ultimately and dangerously atrophy our cognitive and emotional abilities.

Still from Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot, Episode 5: As If, 2022, HD Video, 27 min 29 sec © William Kentridge. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2024. Courtesy the artist, Goodman Gallery and Hauser & Wirth

Still from Self-Portrait as a Coffee-Pot, Episode 6: A Harvest of Devotion, 2022, HD Video, 31 min 24 sec © William Kentridge. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2024. Courtesy the artist, Goodman Gallery and Hauser & Wirth

‘Kentridge’s art is rooted in South Africa, where he continues to live and create most of his work,’ says Christov-Bakargiev. ‘It stems from an attempt to address the nature of human emotions and memory, as well as the relationship between knowledge, desire, ethics, practice and responsibility. He investigates how our identities are shaped through our shifting ideas of history and place, looking at how we construct our histories as forms of collage and what we do with them, both singularly and collaboratively. 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. In this new series, Kentridge’s alter egos and doppelgängers debate over a series of issues: how does memory work? What makes the self? Why does history always go wrong? One might interpret the works as a reversal of the obsessive narcissistic split personalities of our era of avatars on social media into forms of quiet psychoanalysis.’

Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation in Venice, directed by philosopher Wolfgang Scheppe, is a space devoted to research and exhibitions that critique spectacle and investigate the politics of representation in the spirit of Situationism, of which Scheppe is an expert and the Institute the holder of one of the most comprehensive collections. Although interested in the trajectories of Situationism, Kentridge’s visual vocabulary, his costumes and designs, have often been inspired by an earlier period, in particular by Dada, Bauhaus and Constructivist precursors, including Oskar Schlemmer’s Ballet Triadique (1916 – 1922), and some of these costumes appear in Episode 8 of this series—Oh to Believe in Another World, which references the falling out of favor of utopian intellectuals generally through the story of Dmitri Shoshtakovic, and is also the title of a live orchestra performance and an installation by Kentridge of 2022 – 2023.

An excerpt from ‘Self Portrait as a Coffee-Pot’ © William Kentridge. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2024. Courtesy the artist, Goodman Gallery and Hauser & Wirth

During the opening week of the Venice Biennale, from Monday 15 to Friday 19 April, Kentridge and Christov-Bakargiev will converse over a late-night whisky from 11 pm to 12 am, with special guests. This series of Midnight Whisky Talks presents improvisational philosophical dialogues that take place physically on the second floor of Arsenale Institute, in an environment reminiscent of a temporary domestic space adorned with Situationist documents and anti-art works from the 1950s and 60s, presumedly inhabited by an imaginary twentieth-century intellectual couple. Midnight Whisky Talks will take place daily, live streamed at 11 pm Central European Time (CET) on Instagram @williamkentridgestudio.

Additionally, Kentridge will speak at Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia on Friday 19 April from 11 am to 1 pm. The talk will take place in the historical Aula Magna Silvio Trentin at Palazzo Ca’ Dolfin, where a series of ten exceptional Tiepolo paintings (1726 – 1729) once hung, prior to their dismantling and sale in the late 1800s. The original paintings theatrically represent battles and scenes of expansion of the Roman Empire, including the Punic wars, and are located today in museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  


On view from 17 April – 24 November 2024, the exhibition curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is hosted at Arsenale Institute for the Politics of Representation. With thanks to Wolfgang Scheppe, founding director of Arsenale Institute, and Marie Letz, as well as to Chiara Spangaro, project manager. With Thanks to Anne McIlleron and Damon Garstang, WILLIAM KENTRIDGE STUDIO.

With thanks to Anne McIlleron and Damon Garstang of William Kentridge Studio, and to Sara Codutto.  

The exhibition is supported by Goodman Gallery, Galleria Lia Rumma and Hauser & Wirth.