Pictured Above: Tuçe Yasak In Process at The Watermill Center. |. Lindsay Morris photo for The Watermill Center
by George Cork Maul
I had the distinct pleasure of being able to visit some fine artists at work, and to break bread with them, at the Watermill Center a few weeks ago. It’s an opportunity that the Watermill Center, a laboratory for the arts founded by theater and visual artist Robert Wilson, is looking to make more available to its neighbors on the East End.
The Watermill Center was built on the site of a former Western Union research facility where the stylus for the first fax machine was invented, in the woods north of Water Mill. It’s an easy place to miss as you are driving around in the residential section of Water Mill where it’s hidden.
An imposing large rectangular structure can barely be seen through the trees as one approaches, guided by a very small sign in front of a bush.
Going up the driveway, one is greeted by a grouping of strange, soft sculptures in the woods, Adam Parker Smith’s “Sarcophagi.”
I had an ominous feeling that I was entering a space unlike anything that surrounds it. After parking I was confused about where the entrance to the building was, only because it was so unassuming. I stumbled into a set of commercial glass double doors and was immediately and cordially greeted by Brian O’Mahoney, the Communications Manager. Brian is an interesting character with a sincere love of the arts. As a performer, his background seems to have fused humor and the absurd with a sensitive empathy and colorful philosophy that has taken him through performance art to a position dedicated to the Watermill Center. Indeed, all of the staff at the Center seems to have been handpicked for their wide and specific knowledge, and for their dedication to this project.
There’s a very large round table in a room just to the left of the entrance to the Watermill Center, and meeting around this table is an integral part of what goes on there. A gourmet chef, David Chaffin, whipped up an amazing lunch of homemade bread (OMG) and vegetarian delights that made all of the artists and staff realize they are lucky to be in this environment. The personal act of sitting around the table together certainly enhances the community within the building, whose architecture shows Robert Wilson’s belief that “ the most important part of theatre” is light.
The first artist we were taken to see was Tuçe Yasak, who was deeply engaged in experiments with light and reflection in the basement studio of a separate artist residence building. Of Turkish origin, she had been working on a scale model of an earthquake crack in the cement floor, before the earthquakes in Turkey began. It lended gravitas to the adage of life imitating art. Ms.Yasak struck me when she said that she hears light in her heart.
Next, Lea Bertucci, a young sound artist who is involved with experiments in processed effects and the human voice, is very busily cataloging sounds on her hard drive. She told me the sounds that she hears in the environment are just as interesting to her as the ones she makes. It’s a very humble position for an artist.
Lindsay Morris photos for The Watermill Center
Then we moved on to the third artist-in-residence, Vinson Fraley, who was working in a long room full of collected artifacts from the Robert Wilson Collection. Vinson seemed to be involved in a walking conversation when we arrived in the gallery. It was proof that a dancer/singer/performance artist doesn’t do all of their work on the dance floor.
He told me he was currently thinking about building architectural elements on stage, and how the removal of the fourth wall between the performers and the audience allows for the possibility of “performance relics,” which are things left behind for the audience to explore when the show is over. I was left with much to think about.
Driving away, it occurred to me that I was leaving a university atmosphere that doesn’t have any tuition and exists only because of Robert Wilson. It’s an admirable legacy and a great gift of love.
Considering the amazing work that is going on at the Watermill Center, I hope a greater understanding about this hidden secret place will get out to the surrounding community. The time is long overdue.
The next free public “In Process” session at The Watermill Center, 39 Watermill Towd Road in Water Mill, will be held on Friday, March 17 at 6 p.m., where attendees can watch and discuss the process with artists-in-residence Pe Mellado Dance Company, composer and guitarist Anthony Vine and writer and educator Carina Kohn. Register to attend, and learn more at watermillcenter.org.