He walked stiffly to the small round chair, as if uncertain where his body should go. He talked carefully, sometimes hesitantly, often slowing to silence. Was he collecting his thoughts, or was this a way to emphasize what he was saying? Because he said a lot, this pioneering stage director now in his 78th year appearing before a large rapt audience in DC's Hirshhorn auditorium. It was difficult to believe that he had already that day been in two other cities and would fly to Bulgaria - BULGARIA? (no explanation) - in the morning. Apart from the arts center established under his direction in Water Mill, NY, where, he proudly remarked "there are no doors," he would seem to have no real home. His home was in the interstice between the horizontal and the vertical - within the realm of light that he calls the secret to all good design. Though it seemed that his own light was fading - he had to be helped to stand erect before an easel holding a large pad of white paper and then ushered back to the chair.
Trained as an architect at Pratt in New York, Robert Wilson has been a pioneer in theater and opera since the 1950s putting his faith in such statements as "without light there is no space" and quoting Einstein saying "light is the measure of things. Light is structural." Movement enters in, too, in abstract but geometric ways. "Time is the line that goes through the center; space is horizontal.And "it's always the space in back of you that makes the space in front of you strong." He is unconventional, to say the least - if that word has any meaning at all in the aesthetic realm. He once created a play using the texts done by a young autistic boy named Christopher whom he met in a facility supposedly dedicated to helping the so-called developmentally disabled. Or handicapped in ways most people did not understand. Wilson could decipher much of what the boy wrote in terms of patterns that were the boy's language.
He didn't try to explain the meeting of abstraction, taking for granted a sense of acceptance in how he viewed the world. The title of the talk - a conversation between Wilson and Hirshhorn director Melissa Chu - was "Re-Setting the Stage." Revising a person's perception of art and how it is made and received on stage as well as life.