Robert Wilson’s macabre video portraits of Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga is hanging upside down naked while a rope cuts into her skin, bending her left leg, pinning her arms behind her back and deforming her breasts. This video, by the experimental artist/director - and former Wallpaper* guest editor - Robert Wilson, shows the pop star’s painful-looking initiation into the art of Japanese rope bondage. And it serves as the ‘making of’ for a performance-art video called Flying. The video, along with Wilson’s new video portraits of Gaga, is currently on show at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris, run by Wallpaper* Design Awards 2014 judge Thaddaeus Ropac.
The collaboration began after Wilson received a phone call from the singer, saying she’d like to discuss projects they might work on together. He subsequently designed the set for her 2013 MTV Video Music Awards performance. And he suggested that she pose for his series of video portraits, also featuring celebrities like Brad Pitt and Winona Ryder.
Knowing he had an upcoming stint as guest curator at the Louvre, Wilson chose themes from the museum’s collection, all dealing with death. ‘She’s sort of serious,’ he explained, ‘not your ordinary pop star.’ They shot the videos in a London studio over three days, Gaga standing for 14 or 15 hours at a time (when she wasn’t trussed like a chicken), blowing away the director with her stamina and emotional intelligence.
One subject he selected was Andrea Solario’s 16th-century ‘Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Charger’. He filmed 11 views of the singer’s bearded face and superimposed them over the painted head of the martyr. ‘She would look at the image and after a while she would look at her face in a mirror and something happened, and I would shoot her,’ he said. Each portrait is unique - thanks to the size of the slash at her throat, her lips being parted or closed, her eyelids fluttering or her expression changing.
A larger-format video references Ingres’ ‘Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière’, the portrait of a 15-year-old girl who passed away soon after the completion. Gaga managed to capture both the maiden’s dignified beauty and the knowledge that she was about to die. ‘There’s a nobility to her,’ Wilson said of the Born This Way singer, ‘she’s a real princess.’