In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Afternoon at the Villa Panza
  • Bonnie Marranca (bio)


I am standing in a room of twenty-three video portraits of snowy owls at the Villa Panza in Varese. What comes to mind is a recent exchange with Robert Wilson, who noted in passing that he had learned a lot about acting from animal behavior. We thought about doing an interview on this subject in the future. Time passed and now the animals that populate his work travel the paths of memory instead. Installed throughout the elegant classical rooms of Villa Panza are his video portraits that include Renée Fleming, Zhang Huan, Brad Pitt, and the Lady Gaga series, among those of Quincy, a fox, and Ivory, a black panther, joining Kool, as the snowy owl multiples are titled. Remember the fish tank on the edge of the stage, a frog at the dinner table, a sky full of sheep?—the forest, the beach, and ever the moon. Some time ago I had written about the Wilson bestiary and varying climates that partake of this melding of cultures and artifacts across centuries: the sense of dramaturgy as an ecology. If genre is akin to species, biodiversity is the dreamlife of artworks, a new enlightenment: human history + natural history + art history. Here now is the realm of the mythopoetic, fable. Did I mention the exhibition is called Tales?

The snowy owls make only the subtlest of movements on each video screen whose background is a colorful (humorous) field of dots. Like the animals in Renaissance painting they have their own allegorical language. Owls can swivel their necks 270 degrees. Who more than Wilson has used the neck of the actor, turned sidewise as if to stretch as far as it can go? Alas—not around in circles, rather a sideways stare.

Observe animals in the open air and you can see how fully present they are in time and space, how they inhabit their environment: silent and still, extraordinarily attentive, listening. They make the landscape. Human beings are not so watchful. They are in nature but not of it. Each (self) portrait in the room of owls captures the beautiful line of the bird and mask-like face, marking its composure and economy of gesture, the limpid, all-knowing eyes.

Companion to Athena, the owl is a particularly silent presence. Wisdom is silence. Silent night. [End Page 26]

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Kool. Snowy owl, Video portrait, 2006. Unique Multiples. Robert Wilson: Tales. Villa Panza, Varese, Italy, April 11, 2016–October 15, 2017. Photo: Courtesy Bear Kirkpatrick.

[End Page 27]

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A House for Giuseppe Panza, site-specific installation at Villa Panza. Photo: Courtesy Bonnie Marranca.

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House interior. Photo: Courtesy Owen Laub, 2017.

[End Page 28]


Standing next to the House for Giuseppe Panza, I hear a voice through the window panes. It is Robert Wilson speaking sections of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, composed more than one hundred years ago.

In this there is no measuring with time. A year doesn’t matter and ten years are nothing.

The House is a sculptural installation and sound work sited across from the Villa, separated from it by a large magnolia tree that seems to ask what makes the classic contemporary. What was then is always still now in a continuously evolving present. The structure has a purity of line like a country school or a Shaker meeting place. Simplicity itself. Inside is a long table where a disembodied arm rests next to an open book with blank pages. Is it a solitary reader in a virtual library? The voice fills the room. Words create space and convey the signs that translate empty margins into the book of knowledge. There is a feeling of seriousness, solemnity. How often a pre-recorded voice of Wilson lives inside one of his works. The nuanced interplay between hearing and seeing is what invites one into them.

What is necessary after all is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours.

Light flows in and out of the...


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pp. 26-30
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