Art Seen: International

ROBERT WILSON // BERNIER/ELIADES GALLERY

by Kostas Prapoglou

Video Portraits of Lady Gaga is the much talked about exhibition conceived and created by the multi-titled American sculptor, painter, stage director, playwright, choreographer, performer, and video artist Robert Wilson. Initially shot in October 2013 in London, the works premiered the following month at the Louvre Museum in Paris as part of Wilson’s show Living Rooms along with a concurrent show at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Works from the same exhibition were presented the following year (July–September 2014) at the Watermill Center in New York, while the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden featured one installation from the same series as part of Days of Endless Time , which ran from October 2014–April 2015. These works are currently on show at Bernier/Eliades gallery in Athens, Greece.

Having been allowed to access Louvre’s own collection, Wilson encompassed his subject matter around three prominent works; The Portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière painted by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1806), The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David (1793) and The Head of Saint John The Baptist on a Charger by Andrea Solari (1507). A fourth chapter focuses on a separate contemporary installation.

D6LIdIUSV-hyNeimbyoBKnzpWjj92cxM1SmtHIHJvKE

Video still: Lady Gaga: Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere, (2013), courtesy the gallery and the artist, photo by RW Work Ltd.

The epicentre of the blacked-out gallery occupies a large screen showing Lady Gaga dressed and posing as Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière, the daughter of Philibert Rivière, an influential bureaucrat under Napoleon’s empire. Using the same backdrop with the original painting, depicting an idyllic landscape, and styling Gaga as the young girl who died shortly after the completion of the painting, Wilson creates an equal environment to the original masterpiece—but with a twist. The large-format video might seem very close to a high resolution image but the elements of slow motion that wittingly appear, instantly engage the viewer. A bird crosses half way through the portrait, Gaga unexpectedly blinks and tears run down her cheeks. This is a scene charged with an underlying memento mori emerging from the painting’s macabre story.

bNOU1EtbKwexPfv3Jf1y1h5833i8WsWVBJ3c1MqC5mI,b1AYRo2VWhlAKkDh_gDZ2QkdDJfT8yEnNlFY1Hiv0qU

Video still: Lady Gaga: The Head of Saint John the Baptist (Pisces), 2013, courtesy the gallery and the artist, photo by RW Work Ltd.

The portrait is encircled by fifteen views of Gaga’s bearded face superimposed over St. John the Baptist’s head on a silver plate. Filmed in variations of a three-quarter front angle but all in shifting emotional states, sometimes the singer’s gaze, lips and facial expression evoke an inactive and lifeless situation and other times they pronounce the dramatic tense of a dying corpus, gasping for that final breath. Each film portrait manifests a diverse corporeal condition, one different from the other but all implying the same ending. The surreal setting orchestrated laboriously by Wilson, generates an atmosphere of discomfort for the viewer but, at the same time, it unveils the climax of pathos for the perishing martyr. It is the spiritual stage of the dying process, the portrayal of agony and the final chapter of emotional affliction.

Another video image shows Gaga portraying French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat, murdered in his bath. In a similar fashion with the other works, Gaga’s slow body movements and gradual changes in facial countenance reflect an esoteric battle balancing between resistance and resignation.

DniImIYixBqTD2yLehf2135ThH30vKhUeU9Anhr_uDw,ev2ji6xjBBeo53J2uO5MbKZkME65CbLXWPIW9a5XBAs

Video still: Lady Gaga: The Death of Marat (2013), courtesy the gallery and the artist, courtesy the gallery and the artist, photo by RW Work Ltd.

While the final two works on view are not directly inspired by the Louvre art collection, their narrative continues flirting with notions of acquiescence and death. In one video (Flying) we see a naked female body tied in a rope dress and suspended upside down while in the second video we witness the ‘making of’ process of Flying where Gaga stands naked submitting to her master’s will. Evocative of the initiation process of Japanese rope bondage Shibari and the art of Kinbaku, the subject surrenders to the will of Nawashi (Japanese for rope master), who ties her painstakingly pressing certain body parts. Both shot in black in white, the second video emphasises once again on the protagonist’s emotional response. There is a plethora of reactions here; she cries, shouts, and ostensibly resists, but, most importantly, she is determined to push herself to the limits. The inactive suspended body in Flying does not allow the viewer to deduce whether the subject is dead or alive, generating an unsettling ambience. A soundtrack composed by Michael Gelasso contains Gaga’s voice repeating isolated words (“the next day another turn came and so it continued always the same. Coitus, Christ, curses, ejaculation, always the same”) and then citing a full extract from The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis De Sade.

__Aw3fT0vAQPRC2411o48vSIHOD30gwQzdaxVZfb6Fo,DpBIiruNcJmNs5AqYBeClEkJwYTVCFHjRW22RjIRKUM

Video still: Lady Gaga, Flying (2013), courtesy the gallery and the artist, photo by RW Work Ltd.

Referencing the art of Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, who also shot Gaga in bondage webs for Vogue Hommes Japan in 2009, and although Wilson’s Flying videos are centered more around the erotic and sexual stance of human hypostasis, he ties them perfectly well with the rest of the works on display as they all render not only elements of physical torment, endurance and distress but also mental suffering.

With his high definition videos and slow motion cinematography techniques redolent of Bill Viola’s oeuvre as well as still photography aesthetics or even photorealist paintings, Wilson demonstrates how passion, pleasure, pain, life and death can all inter-relate and dictate our mortal existence. His videos pronounce the enslavement of our body to its unavoidable final destination and the supremacy of our spirit and psyche to carry on above and beyond its corporeal restrictions. Unconsciously cross-referencing Spinoza’s Ethics (part iv: Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions) throughout, Wilson’s show is a tribute to human knowledge and experience, to the accomplishment of pursuing our instinctual desires and simultaneously liberating our spirit for its perpetual journey.



 Video Portraits of Lady Gaga at Bernier/Eliades gallery in Athens runs through May 12, 2015

Kostas Prapoglou is an archaeologist-architect, art writer, critic and curator based in London, UK.

Comments are closed.