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Berkeley Talks: Artist William Kentridge on staying open to the ‘less good’ ideas

The world-renowned South African artist discusses the process of making his 2019 chamber opera Waiting for the Sibyl

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a person creates art on a wall

In March, Cal Performances will present the U.S. premiere of South African artist William Kentridge’s SIBYL. (Photo by Marc Shoul)

In Berkeley Talks episode 160, world-renowned South African artist William Kentridge discusses the process of making the 2019 chamber opera Waiting for the Sibyl. He also touches on why artists should stay open to new ideas, the complex relationship between humans and algorithms — “one has to make space for that which does not compute,” he says — and the “unavoidable optimism” in the activity of making.

“When the grand ideas cease working, then one needs to find smaller ideas at the edges, at the sides, at the peripheries,” says Kentridge, who, six years ago, co-founded an arts center in Johannesburg called the Centre for the Less Good Idea. “So it’s both about politics — the grand political ideas we know of the last century were disasters, people who were certain they knew what was best for other people. But it also refers to a way of working in a studio, of keeping a doubt and an uncertainty about your first idea such that other things can come in and shape and inform it.”

During the 2022-23 academic year, Cal Performances, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) and the Townsend Center for the Humanities at UC Berkeley are participating in a campuswide residency with Kentridge.

Cal Performances will present the U.S. premiere of SIBYL on March 17-19. SIBYL is comprised of two parts: The first part of the program, The Moment Has Gone, is a film by Kentridge with live music featuring a piano score by Kyle Shepherd and an all-male vocal chorus led by Nhlanhla Mahlangu; the second part is the chamber opera Waiting for the Sibyl.

Learn more about the campuswide residency and see upcoming events.

Watch a video of the lecture below.

On Nov. 18, 2022, South African multidisciplinary artist William Kentridge gave a lecture called “To What End,” about the process of making the 2019 chamber opera Waiting for the Sibyl.

Listen to other episodes of Berkeley Talks: