Strawberry Ecstasy Green, 2013

By Billy Rubin
Published in Vox Vernacular
Feb. 25, 2014


This work was created in direct dialogue with the painting of Pompeo Marino Molmenti, The Death of Othello, on the occasion of its restoration by Louis Vuitton in 2013. The project is the product of a chain of events. The original story Un Capitano Moro by Cinthio was transformed by Shakespeare, inspiring the painting by Pompeo Marino Molmenti, which fell into a state of decay before being restored and becoming the protagonist of Strawberry Ecstasy Green. 

Oursler began with the formal emotional/color coding in the painting and the play: the fresh strawberry as genital icon, the misty-black, trance-state seizures of Othello, the suicide reds and the sickly, cuckold green. The artist worked with colored glass projection screens inhabited by a chorus of three Desdemonas-bubbles of isolated psychological space vying for dominance and power. The flow of the painting, layered with the narrative structure of morality, blood, pain, jealousy, and misunderstanding all woven together, is so thick that Oursler chose to distill from this a landscape, a few sculptural elements and six characters. Othello appears simultaneously in three forms, each corresponding to one of the three facets of his character. 

The play, with all its dramatic twists and turns, is pivotal, and its unique use of language has a particular relevance, with the stream of veterans returning to America today. Oursler chose to carry these themes into a contemporary post-traumatic landscape, addressing the impossible reconciliation of disparate masculine and feminine forces, the "beast with two backs": violence and peace.

Oursler says of The Death of Othello, "The painting compresses the narrative into a single moment; everything is understood at once. I wanted to capture that in my installation. The wonderful language of the play and its radical slang inspired me to write a humble script for my installation. Key to the work was the degeneration of Othello's character in the course of the play from great orator to disjointed non sequiturs; it is almost as though Shakespeare predicted Burroughs and the beat poets."