Ophelia’s Skull by Owen Woonyung Lee (Central Saint Martins)

Created by Owen Woonyung Lee a with 0 Comments


The work is a part of a project that aims at re-coding Shakespeare in the 21st century’s vision. The skull represents a well-known tragic character, Ophelia in Hamlet, who is many times used as a symbol of tragic death in a variety of artworks in art history.

The lyrical, unique literary style has been borrowed by many artists to recompose the scene. Most of the pieces, however, are mainly focused upon depicting the scene that Queen Gertrude tells people the death from drowning of Ophelia. It is deemed that Shakespeare himself wanted to say about the dialectic between life and death in a philosophical view. The project is on the purpose to re-code the character, Ophelia.

The project interactively delivers synesthetic images to an audience with visuals, sounds, textures, scripts and materials.

The surface is decorated with graceful sentences from the scene of Ophelia’s death in the aspect of the melancholic beauty of death, in contradiction to the skull, which is a very straightforward object to symbolise death.


Inside the skull, a 20-note hand-crank musical box is set up so that audiences can feel the emotion of the tragic beauty in the Renaissance melody and rhythm, which have been reinterpreted and composed by the designer after an analysis of the 16th century’s lute music of John Dowland (England, 1563–1626). There is also an acrylic resonance space beneath the musical box to amplify the sound.

The artwork reminds of an automaton in the 16th –17th century in Europe. The music and the visual are converged upon multi-senses in an analogue, tangible and tactile flavour.

Re-code Shakespeare, “Ophelia’s Skull” Making Film from Owen W. Lee on Vimeo.

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