Visionary of Theater (1994-7) is Paul Kaiser’s multimedia exploration of theater artist Robert Wilson’s early work, which exhumes vanished performances of the late 60s and early 70s through an active interrogation of the archive and of participants’ memories.
The exploration focused on two main strands of this ground-breaking theater: staging and movement. For staging, Wilson was filmed drawing the unfolding stage picture of several key plays, including Deafman Glance.
The most challenging act of recovery from oblivion was of the seven day play KA MOUNTAIN. Here Wilson was filmed drawing the structure of the work, and this drawn performance was then tied to the surviving bits of video, photographs, notes, letters, and drawings tracked down in the archive.
For movement, Wilson was filmed demonstrating his key principles by performing them in a series that concisely conveys the essence of his directorial approach. Technical constraints of the time limited both file size and bandwidth – but here to surprising advantage, for the near-thumbnail size of Wilson’s body makes you read it as a whole rather than simply reading the facial expressions, with the result that the body seems to inscribe its motion like calligraphy.
In other sections, movement principles are explored in context both in Wilson’s early solos and in his collaborations with such figures as Cindy Lubar, Christopher Knowles, Andy deGroat, Lucinda Childs, and others.
Originally created as an interactive CD-ROM available at the New York Library for the Performing Arts), many of the sections do not lend themselves to presentation as linear videos online here.
Theatre of Drawings was an associated exhibit of early Wilson drawings and sculptures that Kaiser co-curated with Brooke Hodge at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. It included video and audio excerpts from Visionary of Theater.