Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Stage Set for Munich 

 ...drawling, stretching and fainting in coils..., Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany, 2007

Diana Thater was invited by Kent Nagano to do something for the Munich Opera Festival in 2007, and she opted to invite several artists to do things at different places around town that the Festival authorities would make available.  I chose to design a set for a deconsecrated church which was now used for concerts by small ensembles.

    I proposed to suspend panels on a grid, which would be the front of a free standing scaffolding, filling the apse of the church.  There were five columns of nineteen panels—with a couple missing—and the columns were angled slightly differently so that sitting and looking at it would not be to look at a continuous plane parallel to one’s field of vision.  I made the grid that supported it very complicated and dense for two reasons.  In the first place I was anticipating their insistence that nothing touch the walls.  I think the building was bombed flat during the war and what we have now is actually new, but it still makes sense not to have the walls touched.  The other reason grew from that but is better.  I thought of the work, and said so at the time, in terms of Schopenhauer’s line about how one may go and hear a piece of music, and while quite unable to say what it was about, one feels afterwards that every difficult problem that was on one’s mind has been resolved.  I thought that while wandering around this surface that itself moved into space a bit in five ways, one might also gaze into the morass of scaffolding that was its interior.

     As it turned out the whole thing in Munich was a fiasco.  Only lower-level people there were any help.  Kent, the star director of the orchestra and also of the festival, was nowhere to be found as compromise solutions were sought for what was not going to happen, as we were there to do it but they weren’t ready for us.  It was a total drag.  Olivia Booth, who was working for me at the time, and I had labored for ever on the model, not only to make a great model but more exactly so that I’d have no problem getting everyone to see what we were making.  So much for that, the set was not built, but they did at least exhibit the model in the museum.  I’d like to do one somewhere else.  I wanted to see it with people playing either classical music or jazz in front of it.  I remember David Hockney telling a group of people I was in one day that when he did sets for operas he would have to call up the conductor and say he needed to know something about the part that was an inch in from the edge on the third LP (this was in the seventies,) and I should like to do a set for something specific too and to do it in just that way.

    As far as we could see, no one around involved in music gave a rats about anything we might say about what we’d tried to do, suggesting that another time one needs to be sure of a few more details, it was like building a house for someone who didn’t care where they lived and was indifferent to architecture.