Friday, April 19, 2013


 Still from Ka Mountain by OpenEndedGroup

In 1972 Robert Wilson and his avant-garde theatre group the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds staged a seven-day non-stop performance across an entire mountain landscape in Iran, called KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia TERRACE: a story about a family and some people changing.  Maria Shevtsova describes it in her book on Robert Wilson as 'a site-specific fantasia, a ritual and a pilgrimage across the seven hills of the arid rocky terrain of the Haft Tan Mountain.' It 'involved an old man's journey up one of these hills while a host of unconnected events occurred simultaneously on all seven.  Every day a different Byrd played the old man as if to suggest, by the change of actor, the idea of he seven stages through which human life supposedly passes.  The old man paused at various stations identified by cut-outs of such symbols of Western civilisation as Noah's Ark, the Acropolis and the New York skyline.  These served as relay points for the performers and were where the spectator-participants could stop and rest, if they had not dropped out already.  (Indeed, few managed to last the week.)'  A dinosaur stood at the summit and the performance ended with the face of a giant ape going up in flames.  But 'the mountain itself with its searing heat during the day and intense cold at night could be said to be the prime actor in this epic whose greatest significance probably lay in the personal inner journeys undergone by its makers.'

 Still from Ka Mountain by OpenEndedGroup

In an animated film made recently by the OpenEndedGroup, Robert Wilson describes his design for KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia TERRACE.  The image above shows a sketch of the setting for the 'Overture' to the performance: an oasis-like Sufi garden with a view up to the mountain.  This was where, as Osia Trilling, wrote in The Drama Review (June 1973), 'the audience was able to get a foretaste of some of what was to follow later.  Here they caught their first glimpse of the livestock Wilson had collected, some of them in uncomfortably small cages, including a bear, a lion, various horses, donkeys, poultry, deer, goats and an elephant.'  If this sounds a bit dodgy from the perspective of 2013, consider Wilson's unrealised plan to blow up the top of the mountain at the end of the seven-day pilgrimage...  'At this, the Shiraz Festival authorities, who had proved unusually accommodating until then, drew the line.'  How playful this proposal was is not clear: Trilling tried to elicit information from him in an amusingly unhelpful interview ("What is the meaning of Ka in your title?" - "I dunno.")  In the end Wilson was content to set an emblematic Chinese pagoda on fire - its cut-out form can be seen on the left next to the burning ape in the photograph below.  Basil Langton recalled the scene in, 'Journey to Ka Mountain': the landscape on this last night became 'a fiery torch that burned all night over the sleeping town of Shiraz - by accident or design, a symbol of "mountain theology" and the fire-worship of ancient Persia.'

Basil Langton's photograph of the burning ape on Ka Mountain
See The Drama Review, Vol 17, No. 2, June 1973

Paul Kaiser of OpenEndedGroup has alerted me to 'a huge new work we're making about a cross-section through the broken city of Detroit', which sounds like it will appeal to readers of this blog.  Their site includes earlier artworks and some fascinating writings, including something on the background to their film Ka Mountain.

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