Martin Bladh’s DES: The Theatre of Death (its shorter version DES, was published by Paraphilia Studies, 2013) is a Gesamtkunstwerk based on the artist’s intimate obsession with the serial killer Dennis Nilsen (1945-2018). Over the last fifteen years Bladh has investigated the uncanny likeness in Nilsen’s romantic fantasy world to that of his own, and by using the killer as a persona – a Hyde Double – aimed to uncover new depths and unlock unknown extremes within himself.
Dennis Nilsen, in his confessions, referred to his victims as masterpieces akin to great sculptures; beauty revealed through murder, his hands transmuting living, breathing matter into deathly aesthetic perfection. The way Nilsen directed his puppet theatre was in many ways similar to the carefully controlled and arranged nudes of Rudolf Schwarzkogler’s actions, or the erotically charged mise-en-scènes Hans Bellmer staged for his doll.
This relation between criminal and artistic expression – the artist’s yearning for the outlaw, the criminal world of ‘forbidden’ desires, and the criminal’s need to express himself in an artistic, often theatrical way – has attracted Bladh for decades. The amorphous relationship between the executioner and his victim is a constantly recurring leitmotif in Bladh’s work, and in Nilsen’s Theatre of Death he finds the most sublime rendering of this discourse:
‘...an anonymous arena of necro-aesthetic devotion where the actor/director casts himself in the role of the victim – but, at the same time, also as the “potential” killer’s intended victim; a murder which was to be executed by the scenario’s originator, the killer himself.’
This new, extended version of DES: The Theatre of Death collects together Bladh’s own correspondence with the real-life killer, intimate collaborations with Shane Levene (the son of Nilsen’s fourteenth victim Graham Allen) psychogeography, creative writing, staged photographic series, performance documentation and scores.
Note: DES: The Theatre of Death should not be confused with or connected to the ITV series Des (2020).
DES: The Theatre of Death by Martin Bladh
Out 1 October 2022
Hardcover, 288 pages, 240x200mm