Robert Wilson has a very particular way of approaching his art practice. A Renaissance man of sorts, he wears many hats and has worked in theater, radio, visual arts and is the Artistic Director of the Watermill Center. He sets a stage for which it could be said that everyone present, both performer and spectator, is a part. Working with live models in Here Elsewhere, a recent collaborative installation with fashion house Hermès at Cedar Lake in Chelsea, Wilson made particular arrangements with bodies, housewares and video. The bodies of his actors, moved slowly, deliberately, with intended purpose languidly interacting with chairs, desks, jewelry cases and more. These movements in order to be fully appreciated required a particular level of patience or perseverance if you will. Actors were part of a silent narrative and video portraits of animals on flat screens were hung intermittently in the space. The portraits, crafted in the same vain as his series featuring Lady Gaga in 2013, almost appeared to be stills. Any sense of action, as minimal as the blink of an eye, is so subtle that one would have to stare for an extended period in anticipation, proving a digital experience rather than a photographic one. Walking a fine line between digitally rendered subject or Natural Geographic photograph, the animals stare blankly, undeviating from his video portrait series ongoing since 2006.
It was a challenge to ignore that the nearly flawless installation of arranged objects and subjects within the first of a three room exhibition was almost too perfect, too polished. The furniture, timeless in structure and design, was extracted from a new Hermès collection, functioning in this way both in the sculptural realm while unveiling the new designs. However the elegance of spatial disruption goes beyond what one might at first assume to be less art than advertising and this is thanks to Wilson’s figurative interjections. Surreal in nature, his creative vision and direction is heartier and multifaceted, more so than what one initially might think, demanding almost. A commanding presence, the artist himself was in attendance for the opening night, impeccably dressed, silver hair slicked tightly to his head. Intersecting the space often not openly tread by artists, he merges art, fashion and theatrical pursuits in a breath. Upon exiting the first room moving through to the second, a video was projected in the round, 360 degrees. Utilizing a soundtrack by Philip Glass and two models, one tall and wiry yet with muscular definition, brown skin, and a broad grin, dressed in a gorgeous sequins gown, the other shorter in stature but equally athletic, with pale skin made more so by chalked white make-up was dressed in a gauzy white dress. Each stood on a central platform one following the other, posing, smiling at something that seemed beyond what we could see. Both women made severe yet exquisite physical gestures interacting with the projections at every angle, slow in contrast with the quickly moving backdrop; purposeful and illusionistic as the multi-channel projections whirled around. Each visitor, unknowingly a participant, additionally created interplay between the light of the projectors by moving through beams of light, resulting in shadows that bounced between screens and the carpet.
The stillness of Wilson’s work is both frustrating to observe in our fast-paced world and successful for the same reason. Nodding towards a vaudevillian past, Here Elsewhere, was aesthetically consistent with the artist’s trajectory, old and new. It was a theatrical romp with the near pacing of Beckett, delicious beauty of a lush editorial, and an unexpected edge inviting those present an inaccessible place to sit. It is in this element of frigid hospitality and comfort where the work was successful in what could have been construed as a commercial undertaking and under the guise of theatrical expression. In the final room a spirited figure hopped in elven fashion as bubbles fell from the ceiling, uttering “That’s All Folks!” the famous Looney Tunes phrase said after each Bugs Bunny cartoon. This character, perhaps the protagonist, was dressed as a dandy yet had a pig nose and seemed to be straight out of a Fellini film or Twin Peaks. A strange ending to an otherwise visually lush event, the gesture matched Wilson’s dedication to the theatrical while also flaunting his artistic license and dark humor.
Robert Wilson x Hermes: Here Everywhere was on view from May 10th through May 13th at Cedar Lake event space.
Katy Diamond Hamer is the founding editor of Eyes Towards the Dove and an art writer contributing to several other magazines. Based in Brooklyn you can follow her on Instagram @katyhamer