Document shares an exclusive excerpt from 'Taking Time,' an upcoming book of salon-style conversations hosted by the late Azzedine Alaïa
It is said that time is wasted on the young; only when confronted with its limitations do we recognize its power. The constraints of time dictate our adult lives, launching us into a relentless chase to ‘keep up’ with our responsibilities and expectations—self-imposed or otherwise. By rushing, we hinder creativity, denying ourselves the meditative incubation period so necessary to original thought.
Throughout his long career, designer Azzedine Alaïa resisted this paradigm of busyness. He took his time, unapologetically. As early as 1992, Alaïa abandoned the fashion industry’s show schedule, rejecting the continuous turn-over of trends it engendered. The unparalleled quality of his clothing, imbued with distinctive integrity, speaks for itself.
Time—and exercising patience as it passes—was so fundamental to the designer’s practice that, in 2014, he decided to bring together artists from his extensive social world to discuss the topic. Thirteen engrossing conversations ensued, pairing up visionaries from an array of fields, including Blanca Li and Rossy De Palma, Adonis and Alejandro Jordorowsky, Charlotte Rampling and Oliver Saillard. Alaïa passed away in 2017 from a heart attack, so when revisiting these discussions, his voice as the moderator reads as particularly trenchant, remarking, “This present that we’re living, we must stretch it out because that’s where we exist and where we can create.”
Art critic and close friend of Alaïa, Donatien Grau, compiled these conversations in the recently published book Taking Time. Here, Document provides an excerpt of actress Isabelle Huppert in dialogue with theater director Robert Wilson.
Isabelle Huppert: When Azzedine asked me to come talk about time with Bob, I was delighted. Nobody would be better at talking about time than he. It’s with him that I came to the deepest realization of how time could be different in the theater than it is for others. I realized that time, the way he imposes it, could be a provocation. I have a concrete example, separate from the work I’ve done with Bob: once or twice I’ve had a chance to hear him address a large crowd. He begins with a long stretch of silence. And in that moment, time is like a language for Bob. Time is a language for me as well.
If you take your time, you either waste time or save it. Taking it, wasting it, saving it—three propositions that speak volumes about our unconscious relationship to time. Between wasting it and saving it there’s a whole relationship to the world that we express through time. It’s at once material and immaterial.
Robert Wilson: As I said, theater is something artificial, so I think about it abstractly. There are very few actors who can think abstractly and understand the meaning of the time-space construction. Isabelle can. I don’t think I told her, or anyone has told her, what to think.
Quicker, slower, more interior, more exterior, harder, softer: all these are formal directions. As a director, you make a form. The form is not really interesting. It’s how you fill in the form, how you give it a structure. But I never talk about the meaning of something; that is not the space I inhabit.
The time-space construction is very rigid, but it has a kind of freedom. It can liberate you. Once you learn it, you can experience whatever you want. I remember when Isabelle and I first did Virginia Woolf’s Orlando—it was so interesting to see her with the Woolf text. I came back after fifty, sixty performances. She said: “You didn’t like tonight, did you?” I said, “Well, it was OK.” She asked me, “What’s wrong?” And I answered, “When we first did it, the audience could get lost.”
It’s like reading a good novel: you can read it one night, and then take it up another night. That way of experiencing the text makes it an experience. The performance of Orlando had become predictable: the audience knew how to laugh; they knew this and that. They were programmed and had forgotten the crucial rule: it’s OK to get lost. That’s what we’re all so afraid of as performers or singers: that in the middle of a situation, we would just be lost.