Art & Design


All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed

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Once upon a time, long before Walt Disney cast his spell, fairy tales possessed an underlying darkness. Remember Cinderella’s hideously cruel stepsisters? In the original tale, so desperate were they to fit the slipper, one cut off her big toe and the other sister offed part of her heel. Their drastic measures were revealed only because the blood from these mutilations began seeping out. And finally, at Cinderella’s wedding to her prince, the sisters attempt to ingratiate themselves with the new princess, only to have their eyes pecked out by birds. Charming, no?

All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed seeks to delve back into this darkness and expose the disturbing side of happily every after, while reflecting on the state of society, both past and present. The Ian Potter Museum of Art’s 2017 summer show traces the genre of the fairy tale putting together a collection of re-interpretations of classic fairy tales in a contemporary context, focusing on Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and The Little Mermaid.

“Fairy tales help us to articulate the way we might see and challenge such issues and, through transformation, triumph in the end. This exhibition looks at why fairy tales still have the power to attract us, to seduce us, to lure us and stir our imagination,” says curator Samantha Comte. 

Split across three levels, visitors are first confronted with a playful series of modelling clay-like figures. Or so it would seem. A second glance reveals something more sinister. Artist Amanda Marburg juxtaposes the use of colourful characters against their macabre origin stories. Think cannibalism, murder and child abuse. The Juniper Tree for instance — Google it — it’s a gruesome tale. One piece that stands out is the “Maiden without Hands”. Marburg perfectly captures a mixture of innocence and horror, featured most explicitly in the haunted look of the maiden’s face.

Miwa Yanagi’s cold black and white photographs are up next. The nightmare-inducing “Gretel” is particularly striking. A young girl lies next to cell bars, her eyes vacant. A wrinkled hand extends a single pointed finger, which the girl moves to gnaw. In this series Yanagi explores the complex relationship being the young and old – the virtuous princess and the witch. “The Little Match Girl” captures a moment of happiness from a desolate child who has experienced a life harsher than most adults will ever see. 

And don’t despair, Disney does appear for a moment. Dina Goldstein’s creations depict Disney princesses after their happy ever after. Her brutally honest, almost comical scenes, see Cinderella as an alcoholic and Snow White overwhelmed by seven children and a layabout husband. Reality is no fairy tale. 

All the better to see you is an odd mix of strange and wonderful, traditional and contemporary. Some pieces went against every thing you knew about these “children’s” stories and others were just disconcerting. It’s worth checking this one out if you’re a lover of the happily ever after. Challenge yourself to see what lies beneath the golden glow of the fairy tale. 

All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed is a free exhibition showing at the Ian Potter Museum of Art until 4 March 2018.

All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, Parkville
Thursday, 23 November 2017 to Sunday, 4 March 2018
Open Tuesday to Sunday, Tuesday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12pm to 5pm

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