Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Wild Swans, an interactive revisioning

A recent blog post by Tor Publishing on modern retellings of the fairy tale,  The Wild Swans, reminded me of my own reworking of this tale as a piece of interactive art. It was part of my show Rumpelstiltskin's Cupboard: Interactive Fairytale Art.
outside of antique wooden pool cue box with stencilled lettering "marriage keeps lads out of pool hall"

detail of swans becoming youths again

The Wild Swans, acrylic on wooden pool cue box, 5 x 42 ½ x 3 ½"

This is a story about a princess who has twelve brothers who have been turned into wild swans.  It is up to her to release them from enchantment by weaving twelve shirts out of nettles and getting the swans to wear them so they can turn back into men.  Remember that nettles are poisonous and cause your skin to painfully blister and rash if you accidentally touch them.  

I really liked this story when I was a little because the girl was so heroic and the picture of wild swans so romantic.  I had lots of fantasies of suffering tortures to rescue someone I loved.  Now in thinking it over, I would say that this tale is a perfect example of the Patient Griselda theme, so-called after the story of that name by Boccaccio in the Decameron.  Griselda exemplifies the perfect wife because of her capacity for endless, uncomplaining devotion.   That is, the perfect woman is the perfect martyr and masochist and will never complain, no matter how punishing the demands of her husband/father/wild swan brothers are.  She obeys and never questions because her love is so great.

Another great theme in this story is the age-old idea that women are responsible for taming the wildness out of men.  In recent years the British press has hauled out experts who claim that by getting pregnant but refusing to share their council flats with the lager-swilling, unemployed dads, young women are causing the downfall of society.  They are shirking their female duty to marry and thereby teach responsibility and good manners to young men.

  "Why should I?  He just lies about all day watching telly.  He steals money from my purse to go out drinking with the lads all night and then gets violent with me and the kids."   So the editorials in the Telegraph, Times, and Evening Standard were blaming the girls for the immature behaviour of young men.

This is why this piece is in a pool cue box.  Because the pool hall is one of the traditional hangouts of young men up to no good.

I had a few practical problems with the subject:  I know nettles are green, but green shirts looked so horrible on the swans in the night sky that I pretended to myself that they'd dried to a nice gold colour like ripe wheat.  I also sat there pondering how the swans could get their wings through the sleeves in mid-air, or if the shirts would blow off if they were just draped over the swans.  Then I told myself, "Stupid!  It's magic.  The shirts will just melt onto their bodies."