Today it seems that we have two camps of thoughts on the possibilities of experiencing theater. Many say the only way to truly experience theater is to be physically on either sides of the proscenium. Others have slowly progressed to a liberated definition, where the proscenium has been dispensed of all-together and the boundaries between spectator and performer are nonexistent. We then have technology; Video, film and photography are trustworthy mediums of a performance’s documentation, but rarely come close to the real-life dimensionality of embodied experience. In the midst of this rapid progression, what new thought is next for the theater artist to enlighten for future theater audiences?
Robert Wilson is an artist who understands this history, and imbues his rare mastery of all artistic media with this self-awareness. His process of creation brings his work to a level of transcendency because he recognizes the optimal possibility in the many rather than the single single method: An outlet within the archetype of an opera, the architecture of a building, the stains in a watercolor drawing, the design of a chair, the choreography of a dance, the rhythm of a sonnet, or the multiple dynamics in a video portrait—the blank canvas that calls out to be brought to life
By incorporating a multitude of creative elements; lighting, costume, make up, choreography, gesture, text, voice, set design, and narrative – the video portraits act as a complete synthesis of all the media in the realm of Wilson's art making. The canvas or High Definition (HD) screen is one thing, blending the environmental and spatial aspects of a stage with a new sensibility for Wilson's direction. The medium is HD video but the form blurs time-based cinematography by way of still photography. The video portraits infuse references found in painting, sculpture, design, architecture, dance, theater, photography, television, film and contemporary culture. The final result on the HD monitor resembles a photograph, but on closer inspection reveals Wilson’s highly developed theatrical language in conjunction with the startling clarity.
Given Wilson’s encompassing of the multitude of media as well as all artistic disciplines in cohesive video portraits defines Wilson’s timeless languages that can be experienced today, and equally the tomorrow.
Artist Statement: A Still Life is a Real Life
The video portraits can be seen in the three traditional ways that artists construct space. If I hold my hand
in front of my face, I can say it is a portrait. If I see my hand at a distance, I can say it is part of a still life,
and if I see it from across the street, I can say that it is part of a landscape.
In constructing these spaces, we see an image which can be thought of as a portrait. If we look carefully,
this still life is a real life. And in a way, if we think about it and look at them long enough, the mental
spaces become mental landscapes.
These portraits stem from a work I did in the 1970s, VIDEO 50. I made various portraits, including
surrealist writer Louis Aragon, socialite Helene Rochas, a duck, a priest I met in a bar, museum director
Pontus Hulten, Sony CEO Akito Morita and France’s Minister of Culture Michel Guy. Those portraits could
be seen on TV, in galleries, museums, subways, hotel lobbies, airports, or even on the face of a
I imagine the Video Portraits being seen in public spaces, as well as at home. At home, they are a kind of
window in the room or a fire in the fireplace. They are personal, poetic statements of different
A man from the street, an animal, a child, superstars, gods of our time.
- Robert Wilson
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