Research into living objects and has led me to wax figures and models. Madame Tussaud’s is of course famous for its lifelike mannequins, wax figures of disturbingly accurate detail. When one turns ones head away, one can almost see them moving in the corner of one’s eye. In fact, Madame Tussaud’s oldest waxwork, The Sleeping Beauty, contains a mechanism within her (its) chest, which gives the allusion of breathing, and of eternal sleep. Many of the original waxworks hark back to the french revolution and were modelled from the severed heads delivered by the scaffold.

There is something uniquely fascinating and simultaneously unnerving about these models; on one hand, they offer an alternative to death, a way to overcome it, a endless state of preservation,  yet they are uncanny, they are not alive, they are not real, they merely pretend to be. If they were alive, what would they want?

The origins of these models can be traced back to the european anatomical waxes. Artists would take direct casts from the body though due to the delicate nature of the work, and of the decomposing body, often many corpses would be required to make one anatomical wax. Studies of wax casts were preferable to direct medical studies for some fairly obvious physical reasons, but also for religious reasons surrounding the sanctity of the body.

Questions surrounding uncertainty and mortality inherent in these waxworks were brought to a modern audience as The Maybe, an installation by Cornelia Parker where Tilda Swinton spent eight hours a day, for seven days, within a glass cabinet. It speaks of mortality, time, celebrity and perhaps an unsettling obsession with the sleeping beauty figure. There is a degree here of objectification, thought conversely, there is also a fear of the inanimate, of the object. It is a confused dialectic, we are both allured and unnerved by these uncanny corpses, but I suspect our interest in preservation and living objects will last as long as our fear of death and decay.

 

 

 

 

James Sirrell