writings

Dominion
by Larissa Fan

Dominion re-works images from a CNN tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, to explore issues of media representation, femininity, and monarchy. Two primary images are employed. The first is an iconic image of Diana in her wedding veil; she smiles and turns her head towards the camera, looking down bashfully as she does so. This is Princess Di as we were first introduced to her: young, beautiful, innocent and full of promise. The image is all white tulle and sparkling tiara.

The second is a shot of Diana standing over a patient’s hospital bed, presumably in Africa where she was known to do charity work. The patient is a black man; Diana is dressed all in white and looks angelic as she smiles down benevolently at him. There is nothing ugly or threatening here—the patient looks happy, the surroundings are clean. We don’t know what illness the patient suffers from, perhaps it is AIDS, but he does not look pained or sick or hungry.

The images, filmed off a video monitor, are slowed down and repeated, disrupted by television static and a black video roll bar. This visual “noise” disrupts the smooth veneer of the television footage and draws our attention to the construction of the image. It is a technique that Duran has also used in She was so young back then (2002) and Does This Mean We’re Going Together? (2004). By layering video artifacts over the images, she asks the viewer to consider what lies beneath the images’ manufactured beauty.

Throughout, the audio track features commentary about what the wedding guests are wearing, with extensive details about the ladies’ hats (“Lady Eaton was among the guests, gowned in green velvet … She wore a fascinating hat of sheer mohair, the crown worked in diamant.”). The audio focuses attention on the media representation of femininity, with its unrelenting focus on appearance and fashion. As a bride and a princess, Diana is the epitome of femininity, captured here in a moment frozen in time by the cameras. What happens after this moment—which we know to be unhappiness, divorce and a tragic death in a car accident—is not important. For in this very moment, young and beautiful on her wedding day, she has already reached the pinnacle of feminine accomplishment.

The hospital footage reiterates this stereotypical vision of femininity; this is woman as nurse and caregiver, altruistically looking after the needs of others, sacrificing herself for their well-being and doing it happily, gracefully. But it also raises complicated questions of colonialism, monarchy, and charity. As a representative of the British monarchy, this image of Princess Di suggests that the monarchy is also all of these things, reigning over its dominion in a benevolent, maternal manner. It erases the darker aspects of British rule—paternalism, violence and power grasping—which are only hinted at in the inclusion of the song “Rule, Brittania!” in the film’s audio track.: “Rule, Brittania! Brittania rule the waves. Britons never, never shall be slaves.” The song is the dominion’s unofficial anthem, celebrating Britain’s military power and freedom, but it is a freedom that comes at the cost of other countries’.

This collaging of complimentary and contrasting elements in the film’s image and audio tracks is a key to its formal strategy. Although only three-minutes long, Dominion is a complex, layered work which requires repeated viewings to unpack its meanings.