In 1986 I saw a TV documentary about the theatre director, and artist, Robert Wilson. There were the usual talking heads, interviews with the subject, and clips of RW’s work being performed. The production that stuck with me over the coming year was Einstein on the Beach. Visually and aurally stunning, it looked and sounded like the future.
Wilson structured the work not around a narrative arc, but from storyboards made up of dark charcoal drawings, images he had in his head and needed to make real. His designs are unlike any other’s – they appear to be symbolic – a pair of school desks, a crane-like structure, a steam train, but what do they symbolise? A story does unfold, but not in a naturalistic way, and emotional content is there, but not what and when you’d expect. It’s a powerful cocktail when mixed with Philip Glass’ score, Lucinda Childs’ choreography and Christopher Knowles’ text.
What got to me most in the documentary was seeing Robert Wilson drawing a picture of a crane on the side of the stage and then in a flash forward the final set design taking shape. He made making a big multi-media production out of something as humble as a charcoal drawing seem achievable. I was bowled over by his approach to such an extent that I wanted to be him. What I would have given to inhabit his head for just a couple of hours. Sadly, this would not come to pass – I’m Richard Guest to this day.
Before admitting defeat, I took my misunderstanding/ misremembering of his work to art college with me. With some help, over the four years of study, I worked it out of my system.
Monitor and Night Shift are the fifth and sixth tracks on Siouxsie and the Banshees’ LP Juju (1981). The album features John McGeoch on guitar, Steve Severin on bass, and Budgie on drums. Steve Severin had this to say about the album: “Juju was the first time we’d made a “concept” album that drew on darker elements. It wasn’t pre-planned, but, as we were writing, we saw a definite thread running through the songs; almost a narrative to the album as a whole.” You can listen to Night Shift here.
You can see a trailer for the 2012 revival of Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican in London here.
Painting has a nature which is not entirely translatable into verbal language. I think painting is a language, actually. It’s linguistic in a sense, but not in a verbal sense. I think that one wants from painting a sense of life. And I think that is true. One wants to be able to use all of one’s facilities in all aspects of one’s life.. ..You may have to choose how to respond and you may respond in a limited way, but you have been aware that you are alive. The final suggestion, the final statement, has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement.
(extract from Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews, edited by Kirk Varnedoe, 1996)