Ophelia Essay Section 3

Section 3. The Appropriation and Remixing of Ophelia Images

The poses and settings of many of the art works mentioned in Section 2 of this essay, as in the case of Millais's Ophelia, are often appropriated by graphic artists and photographers and "remixed". That is to say, they may be distorted, and/or digitally merged in collage-like fashion with other material to create a new derivative of a stock visual icon. Viewers are presumably expected to enjoy the aesthetics of the newly-created art work, their appreciation involving a simultaneous acknowledgment of the wit displayed in the derivative process and the creation of what Peter Donaldson has referred to as "postmodern media pastiche",[27] an elaborate example being the YouTube video of a 1964 television program of The Beatles. In it, Peter Sellars recited the words of "A Hard Day's Night" in imitation of Laurence Olivier's opening soliloquy to Shakespeare's Richard III. As Charles Whitney has pointed out (when referring to an essay by Graham Holderness), "practices of appropriation have gained major theoretical backing in postmodernism," in keeping with Michel Foucault's view that the death of the author is the birth of appropriation.

    "Temari 09" provides an example of this in a re-working of Alexandre Cabanel's painting of Ophelia. This has been downloaded from Wikipedia and uploaded to Flickr. It has then been remixed with another Flickr image, "Hamlet -- Queen's House" (by "Kelpenhagen"). This latter is a photograph of the two-storey, half-timbered house that was part of Marie-Antoinette's "petit hameau" at Versailles. Worked into the mix of these two is a Flickr texture by "SkeletalMess". [28] The result is an almost surreal composition, with the house in the top right of the picture, and the recumbent Ophelia in the lower left, her left arm, raised and pointing to the right in the original painting but now pointing to the house. This last, with its dark thatched roof looks somewhat foreboding, an effect increased by the artist's addition of a large crow perched on the roof of the house. Streaks of brown, which appear to be derived from SkeletelMess's texture break up the background to the picture, emphasizing the viewer's perception that the picture shows a world where realistic conventions appear present but in surprising and disturbing juxtapositions. Part of this mix is further complicated by the artist's source for the house in his picture. Kelpenhagen's title "Hamlet -- the Queen's House" does not refer to Shakespeare's play and to Queen Gertrude but to "hameau" (French for a small visit or hamlet) and to Queen Marie-Antoinette. Ophelia is thus not in reality pointing to a country house, separate from the palace at Elsinore, from which the Gertrude in Hamlet might have observed her death, but it would be an unusual viewer who could shut out such an idea while at the same time digesting the peculiar punning confusion. Even if this visual gaming is too esoteric to really work, Temari 09's pastiche may still serve as commentary upon Shakespeare's sudden juxtapositioning in Act IV of Hamlet of the man-made, stony world of Elsinore and the alternative natural world beyond, referenced in particular by Ophelia's introduction of flowers and plants and by the location and manner of her death. As Hanna Scolnicov has observed (though not with regard to this particular image), "In the Shakespearean polarity of nature and civilization, Ophelia has escaped from the confinement of the male-dominated castle and court to the personal freedom traditionally granted to women by madness and nature."[29]

    Such remixing can be equally complex where video is concerned, since accompanying the visual component there may be multiple interrelated sound and text layers that the viewer must respond to simultaneously, a process familiar from the media of film and television.[30] One YouTube creation, for example, mixes a video of Ophelia in a white dress running barefoot through the forest and then entering the water with both on-screen text from Shakespeare and music (the "Lacrimosa") from Mozart's Requiem. Once in the water, the Ophelia in this video adopts the pose of Millais's model,[31] particularly with regard to the positioning of her arms. She also sings, though the sound is muted so as not to clash with Mozart's music. This detail of her singing derives from Shakespeare, but it is also something that Millais attempted to depict in his painting. This video, viewed some 111,916  times by January 7, 2010, was posted by "Kathyhere" and accompanied by the telling statement, so typical of the Web 2.0 environment, that "This is a video I made myself, the video scenes are from several other videos with the theme Ophelia."

Go to:
Section 1. Introduction: Ophelia and Web 2.0
Section 2. Ophelia Images and John Everett Millais
Section 4. Ophelia in Bath Tubs and Swimming Pools
Section 5. Self-Portraits as Ophelia
Section 6. Fragmentation and Absence: Postmodern Images of Ophelia
Section 7. Some Concluding Thoughts on Ophelia and Web 2.0
Section 8. Principal Video- and Photo-sharing Websites Consulted

[27] "Hamlet among the Pixelvisionaries," 217.

[28] See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alexandre_Cabanel,_Ophelia.JPG (accessed November 24, 2009);http://www.flickr.com/photos/34053291@N05/3310068842/ (accessed November 24, 2009); http://www.flickr.com/photos/spinksy/3074127716/ (accessed November 24, 2009), and http://www.flickr.com/photos/skeletalmess/3154431481/ (accessed November 24, 2009). For quite another remixing of the Cabanel painting, see that by Steve Jones (http://fineartamerica.com/featured/ophelia-steve-jones.html) (accessed 7 May 2010).

[29] "Intertextuality and Realism," 231.

[30] For a discussion of various manifestations of remixing Shakespeare, see the video podcast of the presentation at MIT on this topic by Diane E Henderson and� Peter Donaldson on February 15, 2007 (http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/441 accessed January 4 2010).

[31] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FE3YYJCsSug&feature=related (accessed November 24, 2009). As is well known, Millais's model was Elizabeth Siddal. The story of how she had to pose in a bath of water is on a number of occasions referred to in textual accompaniments to Web 2.0 Ophelia images. See, for example, http://www.flickr.com/photos/essers/2528613975/ (accessed November 24, 2009),http://www.flickr.com/photos/7648217@N06/1502271939/ (accessed November 24, 2009), and http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/1899113323/ (accessed November 24, 2009). A YouTube video recently provided a re-enactment of Siddal posing for Millais. See, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO254Hjv4aI (accessed July 4, 2012).