The 35,000 square foot center was envisioned and designed by legendary directory Robert Wilson as a space for art and theatre workshops, and opened in July 2006 after 14 years of planning and construction.
Bartenev — who is one of the most paradoxical contemporary artist in Russia — is a long time participant of events since the Watermill’s founding in 1992. A showman, actor and a set designer, he has received wide publicity and acknowledgment throughout Europe and America for his performances, costume designs and theater sets. He is known for flamboyant productions that fuse Russian constructivism and glam kitch.
Emily Likes the TV consists of a woman completely covered with cigarettes sitting on a chair with smoke coming out, watching a very strange “TV” — a conglomeration of white balls interconnected to one another by elastic material forming a giant molecule.
The TV is supported by 15, latex-suited men lying on their backs, their costumes sown to the molecule. As the men sequentially raise their legs and move the molecule in the air, another figure in a futuristic black latex costume (the “remote control”) performs a ritualized choreography around the sculpture, “Emily” and the assorted guests who, in turn, walked around the lawn sipping wine, chatting with one another and taking pictures of themselves inside the performance.
Emily Likes the TV was inspired by a poem with the same title by Christopher Knowles, an autistic poet discovered by Wilson in 1973 who subsequently became one of his most important collaborators. Bartenev chose the poem as the basis for his performance probably because it marked the beginning of the friendship and collaboration between WIlson and Knowles. Wilson summarized this in the extended notes to the “Tomato Records” release of the opera Einstein on the Beach:
In early 1973 a man gave me an audio tape he thought might interest me. I was fascinated. The tape was entitled ‘Emily Likes the TV.’ On it a young man’s voice spoke continuously creating repetitions and variations on phrases about Emily watching the TV. I began to realize that the words flowed to a patterned rhythm whose logic was self-supporting. It was a piece coded much like music. Like a cantata or fugue it worked with conjugations of thoughts repeated in variations; these governed by classical constructions and a pervasive sense of humor.
In the first video above, we see all this in action. In the second, Bartenev (dressed in his Red Caviar Road costume) gives an uninformative, but fabulously charming interview to his long time friend, artist Andrew Logan.