Old Texts


































































The House of Fairy Tales - Exquisite Trove - Newlyn Art Gallery - 23 July - 2 October 2010

It is the exaggeration characteristic of fairy tales which makes objects more scary, strangely superstitious or slightly erotic. Roses are whiter, lips are redder, the forest is always darker. Everything is infused with lore and wisdom.

This is a very eclectic show of images mixed with a specifically Cornish arrangement of objects fetishized for their age and eccentricity, and chosen from Cornish museums by artists Cornelia Parker, Hadrian Pigott, Tim Shaw and Alex Smirnoff as well as curators Blair Todd (Newlyn Art Gallery)and Alice Herrick (House of Fairy Tales). As such this is a collaboration between the two organisations. The House of Fairy Tales was founded in 2007 by (writer)Deborah Curtis and (artist)Gavin Turk and it "champions the role of creative play in art". [1]

I can remember when I was very young I coveted a tiny silver high-heeled shoe which I took from the top of my cousin's wedding cake. I treasured it for years and it still had a bit of white icing inside, which I would occasionally lick to see if it still tasted the same. It always did although the flavour became fainter over time. Was this the beginning of my Cinderella complex?

It is the danger of these desires and what they imply about the symbolic order that is explored in fairy tales. Particularly effective in this respect is Paula Rego's The Guardian which portrays a child watched over by their nurse-maid while they sleep, filled with the implication of a reluctant servant's power, that might be for example, to have told the child that if they don't go to sleep that "she will hand him over to the wolves" [2], and Simon English's Sugar Plum Fairy, an exquisite drawing of an imagined fairy-figure, an 'old hag' who is wise and disconcerting at the same time, a "'Sybyl-nurse'" who tells tales which "pinpoint differences between good and evil in matters of faith and doctrine and custom." [3]

Paula Rego's work "while openly challenging conventional misogyny... also refuse[s] the wholesome or pretty picture of female gender (nurturing, caring) and deal[s] plainly with erotic dominance as a source of pleasure for men - and for women." [4] In Bat Opera 33, Spartacus Chetwynd touches on fantasies of 'the beast' and conjuring up female erotic pleasures, although this is done lightly and humourously. In Rachel Whiteread's Story Time a group of dolls sit around waiting to be 'read to', suggesting the 'silent heroine' unable to express her emotions clearly, and the contemplation of childhood artefacts as the point of that silence, suggesting a consideration of fairy tale as empowering in terms of the ability to look at the world differently.

Matt Collishaw's Duty Free Spirits and Peter Blake's I may not be a ruralist anymore but this morning I saw a fairy in my garden in Chiswick, both approach the difference between fantasy and reality in similar ways. The curiosity that questions the rules of representation, suggests a space for 'make-believe' is a necessity to perhaps perceive reality more clearly itself. In both works different rules apply "there has been a strongly marked shift towards fantasy as a mode of understanding, as an ingredient in survival, as a lever against the worst aspects of the status quo and the direction it is taking." [5]

It is perhaps not surprising therefore that The House of Fairy Tales was established, to protect this quality in our perception, and to nurture it.


Sarah Thompson 6/8/10

[1]Newlyn Art Gallery leaflet

[2]Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde, p 296

[3]Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde, p 319

[4]Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde, p 310

[5]Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde, p 415

for more information: