Art In America: Robert Ashley Gets a New Backdrop
Catherine Kron in Art In America, 12/12/11
If there's such a thing as an "artist's composer," Robert Ashley is it. The 81-year-old opera composer and performer, who has earned a cult-like following, is credited with revitalizing the opera form for fine art crowds. He is admired for his scores, whose unorthodox formats appeal to musicians, performers and visual artists. But his underground credibility might be blown with Vidas Perfectas, a reimagining of his 1983 opera Perfect Lives. The new work opens next week at the Irondale Theater in Brooklyn.
Perfect Lives, a loose story of a bank heist, is best remembered as a highly distorted experimental video. The new live show, produced by the musician/scholar Alex Waterman, involves collaborations between Waterman and commissioned artists. Ashley was not involved, and Waterman made dramatic changes to the original: translating the work, which is sung by four vocalists, from its original English to Spanish; and splitting the original videos into new projects. This is the first installment of the series, and addresses only the first three sections of the original video. Each project will take place in a new location, and employ a different set of contributors.
For this adaptation of the video's first three sections, artist Sarah Crowner created a backdrop and sets. Crowner, who is known for her use of sewn fabrics stretched over canvas to color-blocking effect, had been developing a series of curtains she thought of as backdrops for a play. "Suddenly Alex and I noticed that the white parts on the backdrop could function as screens," Crowner told A.i.A. "We started discussing the idea of projecting something on the screen..."