Anna Karenina Survives The Train. 2010
This one-of-a-kind engraved, porcelain doll, features a complex, full-body, color tattoo of an orthopedic corset and a prosthetic leg device. Face is one of a kind. Magnetic wig is removable, and permanently styled into intricate braiding adorned with a Victorian copper comb.
This doll is based on the main protagonist from the majestic and tragic novel Anna Karenina written by Leo Tolstoy. I tried to re-imagine Anna’s heartbreaking love story with a different ending where she survives her horrific suicide attempt at jumping under a slow-moving train, but sustains severe, disfiguring injuries, losing her left leg, mangling her left arm and breaking her back instead.
I took the metaphor of straight-laced, yet decadent attitudes of Victorian Russian society that governed and ultimately decided Anna’s fate, and interpreted it in a literal, visual way as her medical bondage braces and prosthetic devices, which now literally hold her shattered body together. She is protected, yet restrained by the inhumanity of social conventions. I wonder if surviving her suicide would make any difference in her destiny despite her transgression of the status quo.
Amongst a myriad of deeply philosophical issues, the biggest question that the novel Anna Karenina leaves one with is perhaps whether love can really conquer all.
A part of me wants to believe that Anna’s near death experience would serve as a powerful epiphany for her and her lover count Alexey Vronsky, and transform their deteriorating relationship back into a loving union it once was, but a realist in me questions this idealistic approach, rationalizing that her difficult situation in life brought on by breaking the social rules and conventions of the day, and can not have a long-term, happy resolution unless all the stigma of her illicit relationship is removed and her public image reinstated.
The incident may cause a profound spiritual awakening for her and Alex, but they will continue to face the same external problems of gender inequity, which have undone their powerful love before.
Sadly, their first near death experience is a testament that perhaps love does not conquer all: When Anna nearly dies during childbirth and Alexey shoots himself in despair of losing her, both survive and are overcome with gratitude and love for each other, but their happiness is fleeting as it provides only a temporary, idealized escape from their difficult situation, followed by an eventual boredom, loneliness, frustration and inevitable return to a grim reality.
Will this, second near death experience with an added problem of Anna’s disability be any more profound and lasting than the first? Perhaps, but I’m skeptical.
And yet, a romantic in me believes in Anna’s life, while John Milton’s quote from Paradise Lost encourages me to believe that perhaps there could have been a happy ending for Anna Karenina after all: “The mind is its own place, and in itself, Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”
Perhaps Anna and Alex could have made their own heaven in the hell that they found themselves? I re-imagined the climax scene where Alexey finds Anna broken, but alive instead of dead and mutilated on table at the train station where they had carried her body, and the despair and grief in the face of her ugly death turns instead into relief and a renewal of their love for each other. They embrace, kiss, and ride off into the sunset, leaving their superficial selves, the superficial society that bred them and all its false idols behind to live happily ever after.