Ophelia Essay Section 6

Section 6. Fragmentation and Absence: Postmodern Images of Ophelia 

Mary Elise's self portrait and image of an Ophelia who is vanishing into nothingness leads me to the final version of the Ophelia icon present on Web 2.0 sites that I wish to comment upon here. I have in mind those images that depict a fragmented Ophelia or even absent Ophelia. In November 2008, avclayton uploaded to Flickr a photograph of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle spread out on a table. One puzzle piece at the center shows part of Ophelia's face. There are daisies in her hair. Although the photographer states only that he is uploading an image of his mother's holiday puzzle, his composition, which has the punning title "Ophelia in Pieces," provides a postmodernist treatment of the Ophelia icon.[48] Like Eugènia Balcells in her 1979 book entitled "OPHELIA" (variacions sobre una imatge), which has close to forty black and white images derived in this instance from Millais's painting and designed to demystify and recontextualize the original work of art,[49] avclayton presents a composition in which an original image of Ophelia (Antoine Auguste Ernest Herbert's painting of 1876) is so completely fragmented that only a partial segment of Ophelia's face remains. Here, Ophelia has not so much merged with any natural environment as fragmented. She is inaccessible and largely hidden from the viewer's gaze. Only the memory of the original work of art or the labor of the puzzle-doer can restore her presence. Far more radical and disturbing is the photograph by Anthony Cheung of an art installation, a collaborative creation by the Dutch artists Afke Golsteijn, Ruben Taneja and Floris Bakker that was entitled Ophelia.  As described by Poliquin, the work depicts a sleeping lioness, "her head resting on her crossed paws, her ears softly turned downwards. She is relaxed, at peace, without worry. But there is only half of her, the front half, beautifully taxidermied, which disappears into globules of gold arcing away from her middle section." Ophelia, then, has become a lioness, but a stuffed one in a disturbing state of disintegration.[50]

       A very different approach is employed by Jo Wonder, who works in the medium of microbiological art. Beginning with a version of Millais's painting of Ophelia, the artist employed time-lapse photography over six days to create a video that records the disintegration of the original image and, as the bacteria grow and change, the emergence of something new. The initial imaging was carried out in a laboratory at Surrey University with the assistance of microbiologist Dr. Simon Park. Poems were then added, along with music by Milton Mermikides. The poems were left by voice mail, a number by quite prominent poets, and the music was produced from the genetic code of bacteria that colonize the gut.

    A number of other images completely remove Ophelia. A Flickr image by Lucky Clov and entitled "Suburban Ophelia", for example,depicts a body of water, but rather than a drowning Ophelia, we see a submerged shopping cart in her place.[51] The familiar icon has been undermined, but, holding its memory in our consciousness, we enjoy the witty substitution. An image on PhotoNet by Jack McRichie entitled "Visions of Ophelia" shows white bed linen hanging in a garden on a washing line. In the foreground is a woman's bicycle.[52] A number of other photographs assume the viewer's familiarity with the natural environment described by Shakespeare (and depicted by Millais). These depict such an environment but omit Ophelia herself, the subject thus being transferred to the absence of Ophelia. Lars Fimmerstad's "Warten auf Ophelia," for example, depicts a water lily growing in a dark body of water. It is the title that transforms our reading of the image.[53] Similar photographic exercises in absence are to be found in works posted by Esther L. v. B, Marina Luise, Levia Draconia, and Kora White.[54]

    Other works develop the same theme of absence but use versions of the kind of alternate environments that were discussed above. Wwaytv3 posted a Flickr image depicting a swimming pool. Floating on the surface of the water are leaves and vegetation. The photographer's intention was partly to record the aftermath of Hurricane Ophelia. However, anyone familiar with the Ophelia icon discussed in this essay will inevitably read the image very differently.[55] There is no such ambiguity about the intentions of Fin Fahey, who uploaded an image to Flickr entitled "Ophelia Unbound, River Lee." It depicts a dirty abandoned bath tub just below the surface of some water, presumably the River Lee.[56] In her blog she describes the work as "hideously referential," in her mind (one assumes) being the death of Ophelia, the large number of images of Ophelia in a bath tub, and the bath tub in which Elizabeth Siddal was confined when she modeled for Millais. Here the bath tub is empty, Siddal has gone home to get warm, and Ophelia is absent. In broader terms, however, all such images of absence collectively confront the viewer with the ultimate step in mutability: death and disappearance from view, both of which Hamlet must painfully confront as Ophelia is buried during the graveyard scene in the final act of the play. Given the centrality of meditation upon death in Hamlet, such images possess a resonance that inevitably invites renewed engagement with the original text.

Go to:
Section 1. Introduction: Ophelia and Web 2.0
Section 2. Ophelia Images and John Everett Millais
Section 3. The Appropriation and Remixing of Ophelia Images
Section 4. Ophelia in Bath Tubs and Swimming Pools
Section 5. Self-Portraits as Ophelia
Section 7. Some Concluding Thoughts on Ophelia and Web 2.0
Section 8. Principal Video- and Photo-sharing Websites Consulted

[48] http://www.flickr.com/photos/avclayton/3066361839/ (accessed January 10, 2010).


[49] For a discussion of this Spanish artist's Ophelia, see Kiefer, Myth and Madness of Ophelia, 28-31 (Figures 28 and 29). Of particular relevance here is the manner in which Balcells "subjects the image of Millais's painting to a series of reductions and multiplications until the form of the body of Ophelia is totally broken down and absorbed in a field of broken lines or reduced out of sight on the page" (28).


[50] The photograph was uploaded in October 2008 to Rachel Poliquin's "Taxidermy and Ravishing Beasts" site (Accessed 3 November, 2011)

[51] http://www.flickr.com/photos/luckyclov/300027022/ (accessed 3 November, 2011).


[52] http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=7205824 (accessed 3 November, 2011).


[55] http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwaytv3/43260563/ (accessed 24 November, 2009).


[56] http://www.flickr.com/photos/albedo/1492786820/ (accessed 24 November, 2009).