The Trial of Anne Opie Wehrer and Other Known Accomplices for Crimes Against Humanity
New York-based composer, performer, and scholar Alex Waterman screens video footage from his production of Robert Ashley’s The Trial of Anne Opie Wehrer and Other Unknown Accomplices for Crimes Against Humanity (1968), featuring Amy Sillman as the lead. Waterman will introduce the opera and answer questions following the screening.
The Trial is a “speaking opera” by Robert Ashley originally staged in 1968, in which the main speaker is asked to publicly answer one hundred questions about her life by an interrogator offstage. A series of improvised interruptions, diversions, and cross-examinations by two pairs of men and women creates a cacophonous and complicated score, with sounds of evasions, sarcastic questions and answers, laughter, and a huge, complex “story” about life as they all have lived it.
As Ashley recalls, “Audience reactions went from wonder to sheer outrage–as we learned from a lot of letters that came to us after performances.”
In Ann arbor, Michigan in the 1960s, Ashley formed and worked closely with the ONCE Group. Together, in 1968, they stages a “speaking opera,”The Trial of Anne Opie Wehrer and Unknown Accomplices for Crimes Against Humanity.
In 1974, Anne Opie Wehrer wrote a letter to Marcia Tucker at the Whitney Museum explaining her wish to reproduce the opera at the Whitney as a live performance and installation. Forty years later, waterman used this letter as the template for his staging and production of the piece at the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
At the Biennial, Anne Opie Wehrer was replaced by four contemporary art-world personalities – artist Amy Sillman, poet and cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum, artist, actress, and forensic therapist Mary Farley, and visual artist Barbara Bloom. Anne’s “proxies” were performed by Kendra Sullivan and Alisa Besher, examiners included Sean Daly, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Mary Farley.
Alex Waterman is a composer, performer, and scholar based in Brooklyn, NY. He holds a Masters in Composition and Performance from the Institute for Sonology and a PhD in musicology from New York University.
He studied cello with Andor Toth, Catherina Meints, George Neikrug, and Frances Marie Uitti. His installation works have been exhibited at the ICA London, Stonescape, Vilma Gold, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, and the Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht.
His book on Robert Ashley, written and edited by Waterman and Will Holder, was released by New Documents in September 2014. He has produced two other books with Will Holder: Agape and Between Thought and Sound.
Waterman was an artist in the 2014 Whitney Biennial where he built a television studio, and installation space inside the museum in order to produce 3 operas by Robert Ashley.
He has taught at Bard College (MFA program), NYU, Bloomfield College and the Banff Centre for the Arts. His writings appear in Dot Dot Dot, Artforum, Brooklyn Rail, BOMB, and The Third Rail.
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