Fairy Tales: Life at the margins


In the world of the fairy tale, witches and crones are not the only characters who generate mistrust and fear — ‘others’, outsiders and so-called misfits pushed to the margins of society, figure prominently in many tales. In these stories, people living outside the norm are branded as villains or monsters. The Beast from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a prime example. Given our social needs, stories of isolation reflect a deeply human anxiety. In stories, as in life, perceived differences inspire actions born of fear — from petty quarrelling to ostracism or vengeful retaliation.

Buy Tickets to ‘Fairy Tales’
Until 28 April 2024
Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

While retribution and revenge are ever-present elements of fairy tales, so too are questions of cruelty, injustice and the redemptive power of kindness. The darker side of fairy tales holds a mirror to our motivations and helps us navigate the ethical decisions in our everyday lives.

Fairy Tales‘ unfolds across three themed chapters. ‘Into the Woods’ which explores the conventions and characters of traditional fairy tales alongside their contemporary retellings. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ presents newer tales of parallel worlds that are filled with unexpected ideas and paths. ‘Ever After’ brings together classic and current tales to celebrate aspirations, challenge convention and forge new directions.

Travel with us in our weekly series through each room and theme of the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) as we focus on some of the works on display.

DELVE DEEPER: Journey through the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition with our weekly series

EXHIBITION THEME: 7 Into the Woods

Patricia Piccinini ‘The Couple’ 2018

Patricia Piccinini, Australia b.1965 / The Couple 2018 / Silicone, fibreglass, hair, cotton, caravan, found objects / The Taylor Family Collection. Purchased 2018 with funds from Paul, Sue and Kate Taylor through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Patricia Piccinini / Photographs: N Umek, C Baxter, N Harth © QAGOMA

Patricia Piccinini’s The Couple 2018 (illustrated) is haunting work that captures the isolation of those perceived as unwanted and unwelcome. Piccinini’s sculptures often touch on ideas of evolution, genetics and bioethics, seen through a lens of human empathy and curiosity. Her realistic creations are both familiar and foreign — illusions from an alternative world. The Couple presents a scene of intimacy and love in which two resting creatures lie in an embrace in a caravan, buffered from the cruel judgment of the world, if only in this moment. The characters’ uncanny otherness prompts contemplation of resilience, beauty and unconditional love.

Isobel Knowles, Van Sowerwine ‘You Were In My Dream’ 2010

Isobel Knowles, Australia b.1980 / Van Sowerwine, Australia b.1975 / You Were In My Dream 2010 / Interactive installation: live-feed webcam and single-channel video constructed from stop-motion animation, 16:9, colour, sound; wood Programming: Tarwin Stroh-Spijer; Sound: James Cecil; Engineering: Duncan Jack; An Experimenta commission / 170 x 70 x 170cm (irreg.) / The Premier of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award 2010. Purchased 2010 with funds from the Queensland Government / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine

Ideas of cloaking oneself through animal transformation pulse through the lush papercut stop‑motion animation and interactive installation You Were In My Dream 2010, by collaborating Australian artists Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine. Beginning with a small child sleeping on a jungle floor, the viewer wakes the child with a click of the mouse to find their face has been imposed onto the animated figure through a live video feed. Prompted to send their character on a magical journey by clicking on one of the many pulsing stars on the screen, echoes elements of the transformative chase in classic fairy tales, whereby a pursuit prompts the protagonist to shapeshift through several forms — a rabbit, monkey, wolf or bird. In a magical world that demands one to eat or be eaten, these changes are not without their own challenges.

The ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition is at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Australia from 2 December 2023 until 28 April 2024.

Fairy Tales Cinema: Truth, Power and Enchantment‘ presented in conjunction with GOMA’s blockbuster summer exhibition screens at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA from 2 December 2023 until 28 April 2024.

The major publication ‘Fairy Tales in Art and Film’ available at the QAGOMA Store and online explores how fairy tales have held our fascination for centuries through art and culture.

From gift ideas, treats just for you or the exhibition publication, visit the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition shop at GOMA or online.

‘Fairy Tales’ merchandise available at the GOMA exhibition shop or online.