Dido’s One Day: a visual sonnet in Second Life

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery – Dido Haas: One Day, September 2021

Dido Haas is taking a break from Second Life to enjoy a well-deserved vacation in the physical world, and in reflection of this, Nitroglobus Roof Gallery is taking a break from displaying the work of other artists in the main hall. Which is not to say it is empty: for September sees the hall host an exhibition of images by Dido herself, and quite marvellous it is!

One Day presents fourteen pieces framed around Amoretti LXXV, the 75th sonnet in a cycle of 89 written by English poet Edmund Spenser, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, relating his courtship of the well-off and beautiful Elizabeth Boyle. It is perhaps the most well-known of the cycle (itself a much overlooked collection when compared to his allegorical The Faerie Queen), opening with the line One day I wrote her name upon the strand (sand).

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery – Dido Haas: One Day, September 2021

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’
‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Whilst breaking with the “tradition” of such works being about an unattainable love, the subject invariably already being married and thus beyond reach (Elizabeth Boyle was single, and she married Spenser in June 1594), this is a sonnet heavy in typical Elizabethan themes / conceits: the worshipping of beauty, the idea of immortalising that beauty (aka her name) through words (despite her honest rebuttal of said claims in her recognition that her beauty and name are doomed to fade and eventually fade with death), the promise, nevertheless of bringing her immortality by doing so, and so on; and these themes are richly reflected within Dido’s One Day.

The modern equivalent of immortalising a name and its associated beauty in word and sonnet, is via the photograph. Thus within this selection we have images with focus on Dido’s avatar – thus Writing her name”. These have a subtle eloquence in their suggestion of what makes a woman memorable to society: : her looks, her make-up, her clothing., a moment captured unexpectedly. Within these images are further layers I’ll come back to in a moment.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery – Dido Haas: One Day, September 2021

Also to the found are several images of Dido on the beach. These are most clearly a reference / link to the opening line of the sonnet. But rather than being a simple hook on which to hang this exhibition, they also speak to something deeper within Amoretti LXXV. Elizabethan poets – Spenser included – waxed lyrical about “immortalising” their loved one’s name in writing – but invariably (and for assorted reasons) never actually use the name itself, instead leaving the reader with mere hints. Within Dido’s beach images we see this reflected in the way that we do not get a clear view of her face (her “name”, so to speak), but are left with hints thanks to the fall of hair, or distance of camera to subject, or that actual position of the camera relative to the subject, or the positioning of a parasol or seat, etc.

Elizabethan sonnets can be marked for the conceit of placing mortal love (oft bound with lust – itself perfectly presented in One Day 13) on a par with heavenly (virtuous) love. In Amoretti LXXV, Spenser in part touches upon this, proclaiming their love (and her beauty) is the kind of lover that shall continue after death (Where whenas death shall all the world subdue / Our love shall live, and later life renew.). Dido poignantly reflects this idea of beauty transcending to the heavens One Day 06 and One Day 07, both of which were captured at the fabulous Chouchou build of Memento Mori (see here for more on that stunning build).

The sestet in which Spenser makes his proclamation is a further extension of the central conceit within Elizabethan sonnets (at the end of the day, who is really being immortalised – subject or poet?). More particularly in this context, it comes after an attempt by his subject to rebuff him for his foolishness, noting that her beauty is but passing, and time and death will lead it to decay.

Whilst intended as a foil to allow Spenser his volta in to the sestet, Dido again captures the underpinning truth of the words uttered by Spenser’s love through those images depicting her avatar directly. The use of vivid red clothing One Day 14, One Day 12 and One Day 09, to draw the eye away from the face of her avatar, with One Day 14 and One Day 12 joining with One Day 08 to place her avatar off-centre. These positioning and use of colour thus causes the eye to shift focus away from the face – the name, if you will – of the subject, a visual metaphor for the passage of time dimming a woman’s beauty (and name). One Day 09 similarly presents this idea, but through the use of colour against monochrome, the bright red of the dress drawing attention away from the face (the “name”).

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery – Dido Haas: One Day, September 2021

So it is that One Day is a richly engaging exhibition. All of the images are marvellously presented and framed in their own right, each open to offering its own unique narrative, whilst together they offer an fascinating and layered visual interpretation of Amoretti LXXV. All of which makes the exhibition – which runs tough until the end of September-2021 – a display that should not be missed.

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