Robert Wilson: Holkham Estate 20 August to 2 September

By Wilsher, Mark | Art Monthly, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Robert Wilson: Holkham Estate 20 August to 2 September


Wilsher, Mark, Art Monthly


I am watching the clouds pass overhead, lying flat on my back five feet up in the air on a wooden platform at the edge of the impressive beach at Holkham. This is the end point of Robert Wilson's latest environmental theatre work, Walking, 2012. I am experiencing this right now. I am having an experience. It is almost exactly 17 years ago and I am standing outside a door in London. I enter into a Victorian dining room where a meal seems to have just finished. Another door opens and I pass through into what I know are the Clink Street vaults near the Thames. It is an electrifying experience as a small group of us disperse in different directions to explore. There are sounds above my head, someone pacing back and forth. As I walk in the darkness I feel the floor under my feet change from hard to soft. It feels like earth. It feels like ashes. I come upon a window to a lush garden. There is a floodlit scene of classical columns and flying arrows. There are trees, broken picture frames, water on the floor. It is unlike anything I have encountered before and I am excited.

Now I am watching video documentation of the installation H. G. that Wilson made in collaboration with Haus Peter Kuhn for Artangel in 1995 (Reviews AMI91). Rather than reflecting the excitement of my youthful experience, the wandering handheld camera appears to show a succession of heavy-handed set-piece installations: rows of hospital beds, moody lighting, a spot-lit figure lying on the floor. On my television screen this disappointing sequence of tired tableaux from another decade just seem clunky and cliched. Is it simply that I have changed? And yet the thrill of these encounters stays with me nearly two decades later and in my mind's eye they do not seem quite so terrible.

We are walking a three-mile route through beautiful wild landscape punctuated by a series of architectural constructions. Horses and cows watch the steady stream of pilgrims from their fields. Dragonflies and butterflies dance along in front of me. I come upon a dead rat. Now we are standing around a huge dark circular pit enclosed by massive walls. A deep electronic drone booms out all around us, rattling our skulls. After a while, we are led off one by one by silent helpers. We cross fields and hike over hills, passing through a spectacular forest filled with huge pine trees and decomposing tree trunks brought down by storm or sickness. …

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