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Universal History, Posthistory, and Globality in Robert Wilson’s the CIVIL warS

Thursday Lecture Series

dateOctober 27, 2016 timeThursday, 12:15pm–2:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].
Masked figure on horse, small floating figure, large bird, and person in armchair on stage

Billed as an “international opera,” the CIVIL warS was a massive collaborative project organized by avant-garde director Robert Wilson involving dozens of theater artists, composers, and writers from three continents. Following its development in segments in Tokyo, Cologne, Rome, Marseilles, Rotterdam, and Seattle, the 12-hour spectacle, intended to encompass the totality of human history, was to be assembled as a whole at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But this grand production never happened: Wilson could not raise the requisite $2-3 million and the Olympic Committee canceled the performance. This talk picks up the fragments that remain of the CIVIL warS fiasco—a trail of paper, video footage, and audio recordings spread across the world—and argues that despite, or even because, of its failure, the work might help us grasp elusive relationships between aesthetics, economics, and historiography in the early 1980s.