Whitstable Biennale 11 to 19 June 2022
A Small House Gallery project for the Whitstable Biennale Satellite. The Small House Gallery is a mini contemporary art gallery curated by Eldi Dundee since 2016.
During the Biennale, I am telling a Grimm Fairytale, using textile dolls/puppets and photography and animation and whatever is to hand, to illustrate the story, with each of the Small House Cottage rooms marking a chapter. The Chapters will be added from 11 to 19th June 2022, and shared here and on social media. The dolls house itself has come on summer tour to Whitstable, where it will reside in my front room visible from the street for the Biennale and beyond.
Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…
In which we meet the sisters
The three sisters led a secluded life at the edge of the forest. They tended their herbs and befriended wild animals in preference to the people of the town.
The townfolk in turn let them be. The towns’ women tending to consult the sisters when necessary under the cloak of darkness.
Stories of the sisters’ charms spread far and wide. A beggar soon comes to call.
The eldest sister, kind hearted and forgetful invited the beggar indoors on hearing his plea for a crust of bread.
Once across the threshold the beggar wastes no time. He grabs the girl and bundled her into his trunk. And then, a quick as a flash, they are gone.
The Sister awoke confused, trancelike. She had been enchanted.
The Beggar was a Hexenmeister, a sorcerer. A sorcerer of the worst kind: a thief, a liar, a cheat. He wanted a wife, a true and skilled bride. For that he needed to use all of his considerable cunning and trickery.
He gives her an egg that she must never set down and a key that she must not use, and leaves her alone in the house.
The hexed Sister explores her surroundings.
Carefully and unquestionably cradling the egg, the girl roams around the house. She admires the richness of the rooms and the treasures within, wondering ever so slightly as the haphazard nature of it all.
Eventually she comes to a locked door. Without thinking, she fits the key to the forbidden lock.
The beggar returned to the house at the edge of the forest.
The second sister is kidnapped swiftly and easily. She had been picking flowers and thinking about her elder sibling, and missing her, and had not seen him appear.
Again , after a few days, he says he has business to attend to elsewhere and leaves her alone in the house with an egg and a key. Never set down the egg, he tells her. Never use the key.
The second sister explores the house, admiring the richness of the rooms and the treasures within. Eventually she reaches the locked room. She used the key, opens the door and screams, dropping the egg.
The crash of the breaking shell shakes the house and the beggar returns.
The Beggar returns once more to the house of the 3 sisters. The youngest sister is harder to kidnap. She has mysteriously lost two sisters, and her trusting nature alongside. She’s suspicious. She will not invite him in, and his spells cannot cross the threshold. Eventually he persuades her to open the window to pass him some bread.
He grabs her hand. She kicks and fights, but he has hold of her and soon enough she is in the trunk, and then to the dark house.
This sister is perhaps not as pretty. Her dress more patched. She has pockets. In her pockets she has all kinds of stuff: string, a needle book, wax, matches, crumbs for the birds, leaves for the deer.
The Beggar Groom can change all that with a click of his fingers, but later, he thinks, after her test. No point wasting good bad magic.
Before long, she is alone in the house with the egg and the key. The trance has not taken complete hold of this sister, she twists those leaves in her pocket. They are mugwort, a powerful herb of protection, sacred to the moon goddess Artemis. She bides her time.
The third sister doesn’t move for some time. She waits to be sure she can hear nothing, then begins to explore the house. She looks but does not admire. She wanders and she wonders “what goes on here?”
She empties one of her capacious pockets and pops the egg inside for safety. She stares at the locked door, takes a deep breath and turns the key.
She is greeted by a gruesome sight: blood everywhere! Splattered up the walls, puddled on the floor, and in the centre of the bloody chamber, a large bowl thick with more blood and decapitated bodies. Women’s bodies. Her sister’s bodies. She recognises the scar on an ankle where her eldest sister freed a trapped wolf and it bit her for thanks.
She lovingly collects the sum of her sisters, removing her own frock to avoid more blood splatters, and sets to work with her needle and string. As she sews, her sisters’ severed limbs help too, and the bodies begin to heal themselves.
Not all magic is bad magic.
The girl hides her sisters, washes and dresses and rushes to be exactly as she was when the beggar left her. She waits for his return. He is away longer than she expected, and she is tired. She jolts awake when she thinks she is dropping the egg, which she is now holding in her hand.
Meanwhile the beggar also waits. He waits for her to use the key, for the Earth shattering sound of the shell breaking. He returns tobthe house and hides in the hallway. Still he hears nothing. He storms into the room. there’s the egg, intact, there’s the key.
He will marry this girl. And soon. Let the preparations begin!
She agrees but insists a dowry be taken to her sisters. A trunk of riches.
He laughs “of course”. He knows where her sisters really are… He’ll take the trunk and fetch it back later. He’ll humour his bride, enjoying her bossy fussing. It is refreshing as everyone is usually terrified around him.
He lifts the trunk and makes ready to depart when she asks for one more thing. He frowns but obliges.
She swaps the trunk for the one with her sisters inside.
She waves the Beggar gone, telling him to hurry and that she’ll be watching. Then she hurries upstairs to place a skull in the window, dressed in veil and flowers so that when the Beggar looks back, he will think she is standing there watching him, as she told him she would. He can hear her too, cajoling him in his ear. It is of course the sisters in the trunk, but he does not know this.
He struggles under his burden, heavy even for a sorcerer, and contemplates his wife to be. She will be useful. Or else she will be in the bloody chamber.
She grabs a bedroll and makes her way to the kitchen, locking all the doors and windows her way.
She rips open the bedroll and lets the feathers fly everywhere, then she covers herself with honey and rolls in the feathers until she becomes a fabulous bird.
The feather covered sister dances out of the house. Each step is a sticky honey trail. She leaves the front door open to greet the Beggar’s guests. A disparate bunch of disreputable, dishonest and thoroughly disgusting folk, the sidle inside.
They ask after the bride and the bird points a feathered arm up to the skull and dances on to gather twigs for a nest. The returning Beggar swears at her, but is eager to join his party, so leaves her alone.
NB: this is a fairytale so no one bats an eyelid at a giant pink talking bird
As soon as the door slams behind the Beggar Groom, she ignites her nest. Whoosh – the house is ablaze. No amount of trickery will save the Hexenmeister and his gang now.
The Bird Woman finds a perch from which to watch the inferno. Her sisters will be ok, they are safe now and will never want for money. As for her, she plans to fly away, and be free.