The images portray characters from stories intended to control the behaviour of children using fear. Stories are collected from various regions and generations, and grouped into seven themes: Monsters, Witches, Bogeymen, Legends, Villains, Ghosts, and of course, Clowns.
This collection is accompanied by a publication created by Forstenzer, which reveals the unique story behind each image. Forstenzer’s lighter side comes out in her re-telling of these terrifying tales, and it is a relief to be guided through the exhibition with a bit of humour in spite of the dark subject matter.
The Tailor, (or Der Struwwelpeter in his native Germany,) is the story I found most cringe-worthy, and I am grateful to have been blissfully unaware of him or his thumb-hacking ways as a child. Several of the stories, like that of La Llarona (Mexico/American Southwest), centre around sleep and nighttime, scaring (or scarring) children at their most vulnerable. Other stories attempt to prevent children from wandering too far from home, like the story of Dzunukwa (Kwakwaka’wakw/Pacific Northwest). The clowns included are least likely to come with a lesson for children, but rather enact evil for its own sake, save for the tale of Hop Frog’s revenge (USA).
After the initial amusement of seeing the characters and reading their stories, we are left to wonder why fear is used so consistently in children’s stories, across all cultures and throughout history. We may wonder how this use of fear is assimilated into our adult lives. Childhood fears can persist into strange adult rituals and phobias. Fear is recognised as one of our most basic emotions, and while it can be used to increase our chances of survival, it must be used wisely.
The theme and the visuals are well matched in this exhibition. The lighting coming from within the glass balloons creates an ambience that is at first magical, and then haunting. The overall effect is one that could easily attract a curious child a little bit too close, close enough to see the soulless eyes of Slenderman (the Internet), or the fingernails-turned-claws of the Kinoly (Madagascar). The juxtaposition of innocent balloons and petrifying imagery effectively reminds us of the innocence of children, and the stories we tell them.
This solo exhibition is up at the Seymour Art Gallery until the 19th of November, and I highly recommend seeing it if you can. On the 6th of November, Forstenzer will give an artist talk at 2pm in the gallery, located at 4360 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver, BC.
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