‘An artist can sometimes restore severed paths to our unconscious.’
– Veli Granö
People have always told tall tales. From early folklore to classic children’s fairytales such as the Grimm brothers, fantastical stories provide explanation for the strangeness of everyday events. The telling of such tales lets us break out of our own world to the vast universes beyond. These stories, folklore and histories provide us with moral and social guideline, offering insight into our ancestors as well as into the uncharted territories of the unknown.
Post the increasingly pervasive narratives of colonisation, globalisation and economic rationalism, have we lost the ability to access the mystic, the fantastical and the uncanny? Culturally based histories have become ‘mythologies’ and relegated, as co-curator Pita Turei says, ‘to stories without substance… we lose the original context of those stories, which have evolved from generations of observation, of the experiences of the land, its plants and living things’. Fairy tales have, of course, long been high-jacked by the saccharine regime of Disney Inc.
But alternative narratives still abound, if one knows where to look—mostly sideways, or off in dark corners. Artists, with the potential to subvert, transgress, contradict and resist, can leap boundaries from the literal to the lateral. Artist André Breton’s hope for the resolution of the two differing states of dream and reality into ‘a kind of reality, a surreality’ appears both as hopeful and as useful as it was when he first penned his Manifesto of Surrealism back in 1924, railing against ‘the reign of logic’.
The exhibition Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?: Mythology, Fairytales and the Occult charts some of these alternative paths taken by contemporary artists, at times using existing narrative structures, or in other cases creating their own access routes to the other-worldly. The artists find gaps or passageways through to the uncanny and the unreal, explore the unconscious realms of our minds, and probe and challenge our attachment to the rational at the cost of the fantastical. Like any rupture from the stable to the unstable, there are gaps, overlaps and at times unruly contradictions.