Angelika Corral and SheldonBR, curators of DaphneArts, have something of an affinity with the work of Edgar Allen Poe. In 2017 they hosted an exhibition of art marking 208th anniversary of his birth, and they have also produced works of their own focused on Poe, notably Dream Within A Dream, based on Poe’s poem A Dream Within A Dream, and a static installation modelled on Fall of the House of Usher.
Dream Within A Dream formed the leaping-off point for a series of immersive installations they have produced (and which has most recently encompassed the works of John Donne – see No man is an island). Now, and with an official public opening on September 2nd, 2019, they have returned once more to Poe, with a new immersive installation Annabel Lee, based on Poe’s poem of the same name.
Annabel Lee was the last poem Poe composed; it explores the themes of death, love and the hereafter – all common these for Poe – wrapped within a “ballad” about the death of a beautiful woman. Within it, the narrator recounts his love for the woman – Annabel Lee – which began many years ago in a “kingdom by the sea”. He believes their love was so intense, the angels themselves became envious to the extent they caused her death. Nevertheless, he believes that the love they shared was so deep, neither angels nor the grave can constrain it, and that their souls remain entwined. And so it is, each night he dreams of her, as he lies beside her tomb.
Like so many of Poe’s poems, Annabel Lee is complex as much as it is dark. There is something of an autobiographical element to it, another facet oft present in Poe’s work. He himself fell in love with his cousin, Virginia Clemm, and in the words of the poem – “she was a child” – being just thirteen when Poe married her, and she died just two years prior to the poem being written. Thus there is an element that in writing about the loss of “Annabel Lee”, Poe is perhaps drawing on personal experience.
In keeping with these immersive environments designed by Sheldon and Angelika, a visit commences in a sky box, where visitors are given an interactive HUD as a temporary attachment, and which should be accepted (it will be automatically be attached, and should detach on leaving – if not, just click the Stop button, when displayed). The skybox also includes instructions on setting your viewer’s environment (if you are using Firestorm, then the local windlight should apply via that viewer’s parcel windlight support). Once the viewer is set in accordance with the recommendations, visitors are free to take the teleport board to the ground level and the installation itself.
The ground level presents the poem through what Sheldon and Angelika call “Magical Realism” – the use of sounds, visuals and the spoken word (in this case, Angelika reading the poem) – to evoke a sense that the visitor is immersed within its unfolding story. It’s a technique that might also be described as “immersive literary allegory”: a visual setting that both directly frames the telling of the poem’s story (the “kingdom by the sea”) and the passing of Annabel Lee (shown through the presence of her tomb), whilst also offering cues to the deep story of love and loss.
This latter aspect is shown through the use of elements such as the candles (a clear symbol associated with death) and the path they mark (representing the path we follow through life to its eventual end, which is in turn symbolised by the tomb), and by the house. The latter (perhaps best explored after hearing the poem throughout), shows signs of past habitation with rooms and furniture slowly mouldering. However, these are themselves more broadly representative of the memories of love and life shared but which have come to an end; the memories we fight to hold on to after the passing of a loved one, but which inevitably age and fade with the passing of time.
So it is that this is a deeply atmospheric and evocative setting; one that should be experienced rather than described. It sets Annabel Lee, the poem, almost as fairytale without in any way destroying or distorting the emotional span of the original.
- DaphneArts (Honeyoe Falls, rated: Adult)