By Annie Zverina
In his use of self as subject Wilmer Wilson IV problematizes the similitude of personhood and objecthood in both historical narratives and the narratives he creates through his performances. He is a cunning aesthete, and uses this to create scenarios that tempt and invite the audience to engage in his objectification of self. This is almost always done in the context of a performance in dialogue with a historical narrative, and illuminates the intractability of viewer collusion in spectacle.
Despite its glossed veneer the work has an aggressive underbelly that is muffled but undeniable. In a recent piece Wilson engages Goethe’s Faust, a text that seems to poignantly converse with the selling and submission of self that often accompanies aesthetic expression, and specifically performance art. However, Wilson’s meditation on Faust avoids these connections. Although his performance “Faust in the City,” takes steps towards antagonizing the audience it mutes itself by its compliant engagement with Goethe’s text. The introduction of a performative score in “Faust in the City,” becomes a painfully stilted trope in the context of german romanticism. Wilson’s ideas and performance are strong, but these appealing trappings interrupt the true intelligence of the piece.
Wilson dances, and quite elegantly, on the edge of orchestrating the exposures and contributing to his own objectification. Once you get past the element of viewer collusion you begin to question Wilson’s complicity in things he is exposing as public faults. The studio shot self portraits that accompany and act as documentation for many of his pieces work with the idea of a fetishized self. However, we are seduced by these images, ashamed to question them, because to question Wilson’s role would be to acknowledge the full scope of our own role as the viewer.