Robert Wilson’s macabre video portraits of Lady Gaga

Tied up naked woman upside down art work
Left: A still from Robert Wilson 'making of' film of Lady Gaga's performance-art piece 'Flying', on show at Paris' Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Right: A detail shot, showing Gaga's painful-looking initiation into the art of Japanese rope bondage
(Image credit: press)

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 (opens in new tab) - 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 (opens in new tab) of Gaga, is currently on show at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab). And he suggested that she pose for his series of video portraits, also featuring celebrities like Brad Pitt (opens in new tab) and Winona Ryder (opens in new tab).

Knowing he had an upcoming stint as guest curator at the Louvre (opens in new tab), 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' (opens in new tab). 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' (opens in new tab), 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.'

Portrait on wall with smaller frames next to it

Inspired by an upcoming stint as guest curator at the Louvre, Wilson chose themes from the museum's collection, all dealing with death, for his collaboration with Gaga. The larger-format video of the singer (pictured centre at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac), references Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' 'Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière', the portrait of a 15-year-old girl who passed away soon after the completion

(Image credit: press)

Watch the video portrait 'Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière d'après Jean-Ausgust-Dominique Ingres' (2013) to see Gaga capture the maiden's dignified beauty. As with all of Wilson's portraits, movements are extremely subtle. Gaga is almost completely still... until she shuts her eyes just before a minute in. Watch Carefully. Copyright RW Work Ltd. Courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris-Salzburg

Image of cut off head on a plate

Wilson also honed in on Andrea Solario's 16th-century 'Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Charger'. He filmed 11 looped videos of the singer's bearded face and superimposed them over the painted head of the martyr. Pictured is 'Variations d'après la Tête de saint Jean-Baptiste de Solario 1 (D)', 2013

(Image credit: press)

Head on a plate with spirals rising

'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,' says Wilson. Pictured is 'Variations d'après la Tête de saint Jean-Baptiste de Solario 2 (K)', 2013

(Image credit: press)

Head on a plate with golden rings around head

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. Pictured is 'Variations d'après la Tête de saint Jean-Baptiste de Solario 3 (F)', 2013

(Image credit: press)

Two transparent heads on a plate

The macabre sequence continues in 'Variations d'après la Tête de saint Jean-Baptiste de Solario 8 (E)', 2013

(Image credit: press)

Image of dead body

A final portrait, 'La Mort de Marat', 2013, takes on 'The Death of Marat', a painting by Jacques-Louis David of the murdered French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat lying dead in his bath

(Image credit: press)

Artist working and editing images on computers

The artist and former Wallpaper* guest editor at work editing his film sequences of Lady Gaga

(Image credit: press)

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Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (opens in new tab)
7 rue de Belleyme
75003 Paris

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