Review of Robert Wilson: Ritratti, Palazzo Madama, Turin

Review of Robert Wilson: Ritratti, Palazzo Madama, Turin

To mark the Prix Italia, one of the most prestigious international competitions for radio, television and the web, Robert Wilson’s Ritratti (portraits) is currently being exhibited at Turin’s Palazzo Madama until the 6 January 2013. In collaboration with RAI, Change Performing Arts have gathered together a collection of Wilson’s most celebrated video portraits and set them amongst the lavishly decorated rooms of the 18th century palace.

Wilson has taken well-known celebrities, as well as ordinary people and animals, and turned each one into extraordinary portraits that offer a glimpse into another world. Although videos, the Ritratti incorporate only the most minimal movement; thus creating striking compositions, as well as blending in well with their traditional surroundings. He has also successfully merged the frames of the film so that there is no apparent beginning or end. This gives the works an almost photographic-like quality, as the viewer can approach at any time without feeling like they have missed something important.

Wilson manages to successfully combine qualities from a range of different visual media including painting, cinema and theatre; thus celebrating the techniques of various art forms. The Russian ballet dancer and choreographer, Mikhail Baryshnik, poses semi-nude against a column surrounded by arrows, referencing well-known painted images of Saint Sebastian; whilst the black and white images of Salma Hayek, whose sumptuous feathers and dramatic make-up allude to the glamour of early Hollywood. Wilson also uses recorded sound to enhance the images, incorporating well-known pieces by Bach and Beethoven, as well as including spoken word. The portrait of Brad Pitt is set to a sinister nursery rhyme-like text, which invites the viewer to linger in front of the image for longer than many of the other works in order to hear the climax of the recounted tale.

With 50 video-images in total, the exhibition is expansive. One image that stands out in particular is the portrait of Chinese artist and writer, Gao Xingjian. His face, shown in black and white and bearing the lines of a 72-year old who has lived an eventful life, is used as a canvas on which is written “la solitude est une condition necessaire de la liberté” (“solitude is the prerequisite for freedom”). Xingjian’s eyes remain shut the entire time, which minimises distraction from the power of the words, whilst a haunting soundtrack of what sounds like dripping water plays in the background; but at an uncomfortable slightly tinny pitch, suggesting perhaps the solitude of a prison.

This exhibition “is a document of our time” (Robert Wilson). It approaches the history of art and man in an exciting and revolutionary way, through the manipulation of well-known images and art techniques to create a new hybrid work that reflects the society we live in.

Robert Wilson: Ritratti, until 6 January 2013, Palazzo Madama, Piazza Castello, 10122, Torino

Rhiannon McGregor

1. Robert Wilson, Johnny Depp (Attore/Actor), 2006, Musiche di/Music by Hans Peter Kuhn, Voce di/Voice Robert Wilson, Testi di/Text by T.S. Eliot and Heiner Mueller.
2. Robert Wilson, Isabella Rossellini (Attrice/Actress), 2005, Musiche di/Music by Henri Rene, Voce di/Voice by Robert Wilson, Arrangiamento di/Arranged by Peter Cerone.
3. Robert Wilson, Brad Pitt (Attore/Actor), 2004, Musiche di/Music by Michael Galasso, Voce e Testi di/Voice & Text by Christopher Knowles.
4. Robert Wilson, Zhang Huan (Artista/Artist), 2004, Musiche di/Music by Michael Galasso.