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In Voluptas Mors at the Royal Academy

2 Feb 2018

In Voluptas Mors‘ (“voluptuous death”) was the title given to a photographic portrait of Spanish surrealist, Salvador Dalí posing next to a tableau vivant comprised of seven nude female models whose bodies had been organised into the form of a human skull. It was captured by Latvian-born American photographer, Philippe Halsman in 1951.


© Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

© Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

RA Lates: Rrose Sélavy’s Dada Extravaganza on Saturday 9 December 2017 gave visitors to the Royal Academy of Arts a chance to: ‘Enter the worlds of Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp for one unforgettable night in 1930s Paris.‘ And, as part of this night, Art Macabre be would recreating In Voluptas Mors with seven life models.

Preparations

I arrived at 6pm and found two Lilys already present in the foyer. We were soon joined by Teddy and Valentina, and together were escorted by staff upstairs to The Reynolds Room, where Art Macabre director Nikki was preparing the space in which we were to pose. When Angel and Porscha entered our ‘green room’ a little later, we were seven.


Teddy, Lily, Lily, Steve, Valentina, Porscha, Angel – © Art Macabre

Before the doors opened to guests, we tried our installation in different configurations. Whereas Dalí and Halsman had chosen seven women of uniformly fashionable 1950s proportions, we were closer to a cross-section of 21st century London humanity in all its wonderful variety. We explored what our bodies could do and how they could align.


© Art Macabre

The frame upon which we would pose was rather more basic than Dalí’s purpose-built construction – essentially just a cupboard with a box in front, all draped in black cloth. As the 6’4″ member of our team, it seemed likely my position would be side cheek or lower jaw, although I did briefly practice laying across the top.


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell

Visitors began to arrive from 7pm, settling themselves in front of our stage with papers and pens at the ready. We emerged half an hour later, disrobed and smartly organised ourselves – under Nikki’s direction – into the first skull. There would be six in total: the first was held for 10-minutes; the next five each lasted quarter of an hour.

In Voluptas Mors, version 1

For our first voluptuous death, I stood on the left-side, Lily McG was our central figure, while Lily H and Valentina were cheekbones – their knees taking the durability test.


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell

In Voluptas Mors, version 2

Having found 10-minutes was OK, our subsequent skulls were all 15-minute poses. It was now the turn of me and Angel to be cheekbones, with Porscha in the middle.


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell

Interval #1

Whilst taking a break between our voluptuous deaths, sometimes we would rearrange into alternative tableaux for the gratification of our by-now quite substantial audience.


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell

In Voluptas Mors, version 3

Skull number three was a reprise of our first formation. Angel once more scrambled to the high ground whilst Teddy settled down as a lower jaw. 15-minutes again.


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell

Interval #2

Another interval. Some of us mingled, explored or simply rested off stage. Others kept our audience captivated with yet more compelling freestyle poses.


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell

In Voluptas Mors, version 4

We were now past the half-way point and ready to ring the changes. Lily H owned the heart of our fourth voluptuous death, while I hauled myself up to the crown.


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell

In Voluptas Mors, version 5

Skull five – time for Teddy to be our central star. Angel reclaimed top bunk, Lily H was at basement level, and I took a turn standing on the right.


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell


© Art Macabre and Drucilla von Burrell

In Voluptas Mors, version 6

Our sixth and final voluptuous death saw the unlikely spectacle of me at its core, with Valentina and Porscha sides, Angel and Lily McG cheeks, Lily H top, Teddy bottom.

Work is done

When sharing photos the next day, Nikki commented: “loved seeing you all supporting each other and working as a team!” Indeed it was a joyous team effort; thanks to Nikki herself, thanks to those who supported us, the scores of visitors who drew us… and of course, to Dalí, Halsman and the original magnificent seven models. Inspirations!

In Voluptas, even more…

…about the 1951 collaboration between Salvador Dalí and Philippe Halsman:

From → Art

2 Comments
  1. boykog permalink

    …..silence…. I just need to take a breath. This is spectacular. You have outrun the 50s classics. You really did. In 50 years time, THIS is going to be a classic! For sure. Impressive. Spread the word. Don’t know whose idea it was, but it was recreated as a real “neo-classic”, as Steve put it ‘cross-section of 21st century London humanity”…

  2. boykog permalink

    Reblogged this on BoykoG’s Blog and commented:
    I am taking the frivolity to reblog this post by Steve. I think it’s a revelation, a huge effort from all protagonists, artists and organisers of the event. I praise Art Macabre for their effort and bravery.

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