Marianna Rothen: Shadows in Paradise at Steven Kasher Gallery
Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones
Upon entering Marianna Rothen: Shadows in Paradise, a deeply cinematic experience in still life imagery awaits. Black and white and color photographs flow across expansive gallery walls in a variety of sizes, installed at different heights. The topsy-turvy installation appears to act as a metaphor for the emotional narrative ofthe female protagonists in the images, as well as the continuity of scenes found in a film.
In fact, the photographs reference three films: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, Robert Altman’s Three Women and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive; and, are part of Rothen’s second monograph, Shadows in Paradise, published by b. frank books.
The women portrayed in the images tote guns and knives, wine glasses and cigarettes, and don negligees and dresses against a 1950s style domestic backdrop. Elegantly posed, the models, one of which is Rothen, dramatize staged scenes in what appears to be a tormented woman’s quiet malaise. Shot in upstate New York, the characters were first introduced to Rothen’s public via her premiere publication, Snow and Rose & Other Tales.
Once viewers enter an area of the gallery blocked off by black curtains, the deeper implications of Rothen’s characters, and their larger commentary on the social construction of femininity, begin to gain more clarity. The space features the debut of Rothen’s two-channel short film, The Woman with a Crown. The video is based on Princess Diana’s 1995 television appearance in which she intimately shares details of the demise of her marriage to Prince Charles and the royal family’s less than gracious reaction.
Rothen’s plays four characters, one of which is Princess Diana, all speaking Diana’s words. Each voice starts a phrase slightly after the woman before her, creating an echo or round-robin effect. The sound comes from several speakers in different locations in the room; adding to the ethereal quality of the work. The dual screens, sound design, and performances by Rothen standing still facing the audience against a backdrop, help viewers to disassociate from the emotional pull of the still images in the main gallery. A critical eye starts to take shape and the limitations ofubiquitous princess narratives across cultures and centuries become evident.
In an interesting twist, Rothen’s images may suggest how women have been complicit in their own trauma. The questionable aspiration towards a constructed womanhood that prioritizes and normalizes, through film and other media, a particular female persona seems to be Rothen’s ultimate critique.