A Multimedia Artist Channels Shakespeare’s Ophelia in a Haunting New Exhibition
A famous fictional character—one who’s been portrayed many times in classical poetry and painting—springs to mind when viewing the video and photographs by Annina Roescheisen in “What Are You Fishing For?” The show, presented by Elliot Levenglick Gallery, marks the multimedia artist’s New York solo show debut.
Roescheisen’s works picture a desolate woman, half-submerged in water, gazing blankly into the distance, a woman writhing in anguish, or perhaps ecstasy, flowers floating around her on the water’s surface. The literary parallel is, of course, Hamlet’s Ophelia. William Shakespeare’s description of the lovelorn young woman in one of his more famous stanzas comes to mind: “When down her weedy trophies and herself/ Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread/ wide,/ And, mermaid-like awhile they bore her up;/ Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,/ As one incapable of her own distress…”
Many of these elements—the water, the clothes, a woman struggling to manage her own emotions, and perhaps her own sanity—are present throughout Roescheisen’s works. Her current show features a series of seven photographs as well as the singular film, a collection of long, steady shots set to an instrumental soundtrack. In keeping with the themes of water and despair, the exhibition itself is aptly titled after this filmic centerpiece.
The question posed here may be read in a few different ways. Is it a question a woman asks a lover who is leaving her, or a question the woman asks herself? Is it a romantic affair that’s at stake, or a human life itself? In Ophelia’s case, they’re one and the same—and the viewer might interpret Roescheisen’s work through the same lens. Like one of Shakespeare’s most memorable female characters on the brink of her death, Roescheisen’s subject is adrift, somewhere in the realm between consciousness and oblivion, between sanity and madness. She’s alive, and yet there’s something cold and still about her; there’s a foreboding sensation to both Roescheisen’s moving images and photographs. We can’t help but feel that the central subject is headed for the same fate as Ophelia: “Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,/ Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay/ To muddy death.”
There’s a moving narrative, or perhaps a psychological portrait, at play here—and a haunting atmosphere that stays with you well after you’ve viewed the works. It’s no surprise that What Are You Fishing For? has earned international attention: in addition to being shown in New York, it was also featured in the Palazzo Bembo on the European Pavilion during this year’s Venice Biennale.
“What Are You Fishing For?” is on view at 90 Stanton Street, New York, Nov. 4–Dec. 1, 2015.