Once Upon A Time in a Gallery – buzzing ever after

An illustration for the Brother's Grimm story ...
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‘Once Upon A Time In A Gallery’ is the latest online exhibition of writing, art and music from the Eight Cuts gallery.

The press release for the exhibition, puts the exhibition in context and is contained in the post immediately before this one. It should be read before reading my review.

I have two tales of my own in the exhibition – I’ve not reviewed them.

The central theme for the exhibition was to consider and develop fairy tales for the twenty-first century. All the exhibitors did this in their own way and style. Some of the content is adult in nature so if you’re offended by sexual references, nudity or erotica, the exhibition is probably not for you. However, there are several items that are suitable for children and adults alike. All of it is impressive and though- provoking. And I think curator, Dan Holloway, has again produced a stunning and original collection of work. His energy, commitment and vision are what make the gallery the very special online place that it is.

Below are my personal responses to all the exhibits. The exhibition is organised into fifteen ‘rooms’, as is my review.  I hope you feel able to visit the exhibition at http://eightcuts.com/ either before or after reading my review. Please consider leaving comments on the Eight Cuts site and/or here.

The music can be heard at www.myspace.com/eightcutsgallery  – my favourites were Sana Raeburn’s ‘Saffire Drake Theme’ and ‘Dreams’ –both were dreamy and haunting.


Going ‘Into the Woods’ seemed like a good start point for the walk through this exhibition. It was a disturbing beginning. Two very powerful poems here – ‘Missionary Position’ by Rohini Soni and ‘The Wizard and I’ by Sarah Melville.

Rohini’s is the darkest of the dark. The tone is reverent, the content is horrifying and terrifying – and, one can only hope, cathartic for the reader.

Sarah’s is also disturbing and dark. The wizard is an ambivalent character – friend or foe? The defiant narrator always seems in danger of a comeuppance, but also seems to be in control. And then there’s the disintegration of the text – mirroring the children’s song ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ where as it’s sung the body parts are no longer named – in a one at a time progressive disappearance until  there are no words left – only action. This is an inspired device – nodding in the direction of children’s poetry/song for much more adult purposes. Brilliant!


‘A Long, Long Time Ago’ is an ironic label for this part of the walk. Both Marc Nash and JS Watts take a modern perspective on traditional tales in two very different pieces of writing.

Marc’s piece, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire Of Peter Schlemi,’ reads like part academic thesis and part excoriating critique. It’s clever and very demanding of the reader. He seems to lament the loss of the oral tradition – something that I see as very much alive and well. And it was the (to us) facile simplicity and formulaic approach that meant the traditional fairy tales could be easily retold and translated across language and culture. The time had to be non-specific and the themes universal – i.e. love, fear, survival, hope.

But while my view is not so bleak as Marc’s, I do admire the keen wit and intelligence and the surgical incisiveness that Marc brings to his tale. There’s no resolution, no redemption but it’s a highly moral tale. And above all it is sly and engaging storytelling. Awesome.

JS Watt’s ‘Tidal Flow’ has a saga feel to it. It is lore, it is symbolic – a nod in Beowulf’s direction in some ways. It’s laden with symbolism and the language is beautiful. The modernity contained in it flows easily through the mythic structure. There is, too, the flow of time through the whole piece. There is a recognition of where society is now – but also that there’s no start or  end point to the themes and narrative contained here. A rich, poetic and lyrical tale of where we are now and there’s no going back. ‘After Dark’ – after dark comes the light and in the case of these two tales – enlightenment. I LOVED them both.


After dark comes the light, and, in the case of these two tales – enlightenment. I LOVED them both.

‘The Littlest Dream’ by Eric Laing – WOW! It has an oral-story telling quality and a flawless rhythm. It’s intriguing from the start and will appeal to adults and children, but, perhaps, on different levels. It’s reminiscent of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ but – it’s not a mere reworking. It’s MUCH more than that. Tup, the mysterious little creature who is the secret helper is a marvellous creation.

There is humour and pathos. I loved the description of one of the inferior, counterfeit dolls as a ‘cycloptic Ruttleby’.

And the ending is very effective and affecting – no ‘happy ever after’ but moments of insight for Tuttleby, Tup and the reader into the nature of love and what really matters.

‘The Ephemeral Man’ by Heikki Hietala is simple and BEAUTIFUL. It has everything a tale of this sort should have. It has lyricism, and, again, a rhythm that lends itself to being spoken aloud. It’s life-affirming, wise and insightful. There is, one hopes, a happy ever afterlife for Omar and peace in this life for Mashood. A WONDERFUL tale.


‘At the Water’s Edge’ holds a poetically fluid trio. ‘The River’ by Cody James is the dark and gruesome tale of Mylene. The story has some classic elements – Mylene walks in a forbidden place, she pricks her finger, there’s a spinning wheel and a handsome but treacherous young man. The style of the telling is also classic fairytale. But this is Cody James writing. She sheds the skin from off the form, takes in the guts and remakes it. It’s brilliant, layered, original and perfect.

‘Said the Sea Witch’ by Kirsty Logan is poetry with incredible imagery. It’s a warning to be careful what you wish for and it’s a dream that turns to a nightmare. There is no happy ending – because beneath the imagery is an all too often nasty truth – the happy ending is often just a false dawn. This piece is short but says so much. Fabulous.

‘Hexing the Sexing’ by Penny Goring – the language drips, spurts, gushes and flows – it thrusts and it yields. It’s pure Penny. It’s ENTRANCING and clever and I clapped at the end.

Sarah Spencer’s pictures in this part of the exhibition require you to stop and stare. They show terribly damaged beauty, and perfection that is horribly flawed. I saw all sorts of human fears represented in these faces just as they are in fairy tales.


‘Embers’ pictures by Shannon Moran – The embers of what? And whose fairytale? The pictures are provocative in that they provoke a strong reaction – well they did in this viewer. Several emotions and thoughts.

Shock – not in a prudish, outraged sense – just the shock of the unexpected. Fascination – with the beauty, with the poses, with the stories and the possibilities.

Amusement – a suspicion of subversion

Admiration – for the skill – of photographer and subject

Wonder -at the relationship between photographer, subject and viewer

Embers of old ideas of power and dominance in sexual relationships and the spark of a new dynamic?

A re-imagining and re-imaging of who and what a fairytale is for?



‘Far Not So Far Away’ – A tale set in a not too distant and scary future, a saga of unsatisfiable and blinkered desire and a Norse myth, form this trio of exhibits.  Here the reader is confronted by legends from the past and warnings of what may be to come. The tone of all three urges us to listen and resist the temptation and corruption which could/will lead to our downfall.

‘Connected’ by Roland Denning – WOW! There’s a 1884 ish vibe here. The story’s set in a technologically controlled world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy, between sanity and madness are blurred, to say the least. It’s cleverly written and intriguing from the start. There is a feeling of menace throughout. This is Big Brother become Big Daddy – a warning of something that is terribly possible if we continue to give away our liberties so lightly and allow ouselves to be hypnotised by weasel words and celebrity. A SUPERB story.

‘The King and the Star’ by Harriet Goodchild has the feel of an oral story that would be told around a campfire. It’s gripping. There’s a young man on a quest to be king, a slaying, an infatuation, a flight for freedom. It’s bleak, Beautiful and sad. The imagery is visually rich – you’ll gasp. SPELLBINDING story telling.

‘Voluspa’ 11 by Sana Raeburn – seems to me to be based on the actual Norse Myth – tale told by the eponymous character. It takes in other elements of myths from the same time and place and the writer creates something new and fresh and FABULOUS. It also calls ‘Lord of the Rings’ to mind. It’s a technically brilliant telling of a Creation and Fall tale. Great writing.


‘Happy Ever After’ is definitely not the case in the first story here, it’s ambiguous in the second but it happens in the third.

‘The Lake of Swans’ by Quenntis Ashby is, as you might guess, reminiscent of the story of Swan Lake. It’s also no surprise that the author is also a dancer. It is a terrible, brutal tale. The pain of the main character reflects a dancer’s painfully broken body. There is the idealisation of the ballerina character and her objectification. There is pain, fear, torture and death. The powerless woman is the then the victim of a bungled rescue. Beauty is a curse and death is a release. There is no happy ending but there is escape. This is a bleak reflection and reworking of a traditional tale. It is beautifully written and very disturbing.

‘The So White Woods’ by Alison Wells – Many of the traditional elements are here, apples, a picnic, a basket of food, the woods, a huntsman, a dark haired beauty. But the story is totally modern. The female protagonist is a drugged, date-raped unwitting participant in a grotesque reality show. I loved the title of the show – ‘Celebrity get me out of the White Woods’ and the clever observations, such as the narrative retort of ‘was there never a sentiment in the singular?’. The author takes our vacuous, rapacious, celebrity obsessed culture to its logical conclusion and makes a bitingly satirical and witty story. BRILLIANT!

‘The Mermaid’s Dream’ by Marija Fekete-Sullivan is a gorgeous, fabulous fable – definitely a tell/read aloud. It’s one for adults and children. It’s rich in symbolism and has a strong moral heart. The language is beautiful. The ending is satisfying. LOVELY!

Helga Hornung’s mermaid picture is a perfect accompaniment to the above story, with its jewel colours and peaceful, loving feel.


‘The Princess and the Ogre’ by Richard Dowling  is absolutely Brilliant! This works on so many levels. Clever, entertaining, knowing, sly, funny, easy to read but with a strong moral thread – and the punchline TREMENDOUS. A fantastic tale for older children and adults alike.


‘Red’ by Paul Freeman – You’ll gasp – ‘oh no! It can’t stop there!’ Beautifully written – scaffolded onto the traditional version of the Red Riding Hood  tale -a terrific parable – leaves the reader speculating. Great stuff.


‘Amadan na Briona’ by Sessha Batto This is strong, powerful, disturbing stuff. It provoked a strong reaction in this reader as it is much more sexually graphic than the stuff I normally read. However that is not a criticism, it’s an observation about this reader. And of course in traditional tales sexual desires and love are one of the main drivers – their power is hinted at – here it is explicit.

The story is beautifully written and crafted. The Amadan is a well-known figure in Gaelic myth (Irish and Scots) but this reworking was absolutely original and very clever. There was also clever use of many of the staple ingredients of traditional fairytales. And the moral thread was strong and subtle. Impressive.


 ‘The Rental Heart’ by Kirsty Logan – A sad tale of broken hearts – the opposite of the traditional ‘happy ever after’. It says so much about our still very idealised views and expectations of romantic love, our emotional illiteracy and our self-absorption. It’s bleak, touching and full of insight. An original take and a first-class telling.

‘Letter to Juliet’ by Mao the Poet –  Superb – love the conversational, unpretentious tone. Thank goodness, there are no straight lines – that’s what makes life so surprising and art and love so invigorating – as here.


‘When Good Moms do Bad Things’ by Robert Dean – Painfully true – the potential for self-destruction and detachment that is part of our human nature is graphically portrayed here. A disturbing, honest and original take on the flawed notion of a fairytale existence. Happiness here is a serpent – a life with no challenge offers no contentment or peace. ‘Happy ever after’ is a poisoned chalice. Excellent ‘beware’ story.

‘Bonnie Dormant’ by Anne Stormont – who? Modesty forbids…  J


‘Partners in Crime’ by Peter S Brooks – I’d no idea where this story was going but was hooked from the off. It’s certainly no fairytale. The writing is sharp – I loved the description of Lindsay’s anxiety – her ‘shipwrecked consciousness’ -brilliant. Yes, the twist is maybe too much of a coincidence – but, hey – it’s a parable. Original and engaging.

‘The Secret Dairy of Alice in Wonderland age 42 and Three-Quarters’ by Barbara Silkstone is  I suspect this is part of a longer work – a novel perhaps? It’s excellent, witty writing – great style and characterisation. I wanted more.


‘We Were making Fairytales’ by Katelan Foisy – is a small set of photos and handwritten notes. I kept  going back to the pictures and the little notes. Sadness and waste and yearning.

Pictures worth a thousand words.


‘Get Real’ by Michelle Brenton – I LOVE this funny, witty, clever rap from a modern Cin – go girl!

‘The Owl’s Lament’ by Patrick Whitaker – an original take on the Lear rhyme with a nod to Romeo and Juliet. BRILLIANT, clever, knowing, subversive – PERFECT.

Great pics in this section from Sarah Snell-Pym and Shannon Moran.

‘Scarlet Hood’ – you may say it’s genius – I couldn’t possibly comment – J

Once Upon A Time In A Gallery

The cruelty in fairytales such as Little Red R...
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Some readers may remember my review from last year of the Eight Cuts online gallery’s exhibition – ‘Into the Desert’.  Indeed you may have visited for yourself. Well,  Eight Cuts  has a new exhibition. It opened yesterday. Below is a copy of the press release for the show. This will set the exhibition in context for you. I have visited and have written a review, which will be my next post here on the blog.

I should also come clean and tell you that I have two of my stories in the exhibition – I haven’t reviewed them. 🙂

 Once Upon a Time in a Gallery Live

 International writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians join in a new kind of online exhibition, using the oldest form of storytelling to offer a unique perspective on the foundation myths of the digital age’s new societies.

 Once Upon a Time in a Gallery is an online literary exhibition offering a new way of presenting a modern book of fairytales that combines technology with work from some of the world’s most exciting writers and artists to cast a fresh light on some of our oldest stories. Running through February and March, this is the second exhibition from eight cuts gallery, a project designed to blur the boundaries between literature and other art forms, and make the public think about what literature is, as well as about a series of important cultural questions.

Curated by Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the show creates possibilities that aren’t possible with a traditional anthology or storybook. Like the first exhibition, Into the Desert (http://eightcuts.com/eight-cuts-gallery/into-the-desert/welcome-to-the-desert/), which featured stories, poetry, photography, art, music and film by 19 writers from around the world, the virtual exhibition will guide readers through the pieces using hyperlinks. “Once inside, people can click on pictures, or words and phrases within a piece, and by choosing where those links take them, I can make people question their presuppositions about the nature not only of fairytales but of literature,” Holloway explains. “I can also create an experience that’s different every time someone visits. It’ll be like being lost in a forest and trying to find your way out – what could be more perfect for a fairytale experience.”

 Fairytales are our foundation myths, reflections not just the manifestation of our own Freudian psychosexual neuroses but of the fears and aspirations of our communities. For diasporas everywhere they provide roots that creep back in time and place to a utopian or dystopian ancestral home. As the digital age pulls us increasingly into communities not just geographically dispersed but born in diaspora (and often, ironically, subsequently drawn together physically), fairytales will inevitably be recycled and refreshed to form the foundation myths of these new societies – ones that have no physical homeland, whose communal roots lie lodged in the internal, not the external, lives of their members. What better time to re-examine the way fairytales relate our individual psyches to our social networks, and ask: Have we reached a tipping point in the evolution of collective cultural consciousness, where we can opt freely in and out of communities, picking up and leaving behind their roots as we go? Are there any universal archetypes left?

The hyperlinked, flitting, rootless style of curation of this exhibition invites the audience to reflect on this rootlessness, and whether, when they find themselves lost in today’s dark forest, there is any gingerbread trail to lead them to safety.

 The exhibition has a live launch in the fairytale setting of the O3 Gallery, located in a turret of Oxford Castle on January 27th. The show features writing by local and international authors, artwork from the UK and United States, and music from acclaimed Oxford-based artists Christi Warner, Dylan Gwalia, and Kevin Jenkins.

“Storytelling began as something spoken and communal,” says the show’s organiser, Oxford-based writer Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the experimental literary gallery hosting the online exhibition and the live show. “Fairytales reflect our collective subconscious, and form the foundation myths for our communities. So many of our modern social groups exist online, but we also exist in the physical, geographically limited world, so combining an online event with a real-life show, bringing together writers, artists, and musicians from all over the world, and those from a specific place, Oxford, is the perfect way to reflect on, and maybe start to build, the foundation myths for our new societies.”

 Full details can be found at http://www.eightcuts.com

Contact eightcutsgallery@googlemail.com for more information

 N.B. from Anne and the Write Enough Blog – Some of the content is adult in nature so if you’re offended by sexual references, nudity or erotica, the exhibition is probably not for you. But there is also material that is suitable for children and adults alike.