60-Watt Fairy Tales

photographic suite

2004

Anna Daedalus — photography

The 60-Watt Fairy Tales are a suite of photographic digital prints crafted as painterly film stills of fairy tales in a modern world. » Read full artist's statement.

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AriadneLampMeisje met konijnSleeperSweeperVacuumLa ChandelleStokerEvening StarGlobeJumpVertellingHibernationBatherCar Trouble

artist's statement

The 60-Watt Fairy Tales are a suite of photographic digital prints crafted as painterly film stills of fairy tales in a modern world. Carefully composed theatrical tableaux, they reflect a lifelong love of literature, dance and cinema. These scenes, casting mythopoetic players in domestic settings, hearken back to the seeds of theater found in childhood play-acting. Two protean characters recur in various ambiguous stories, always inhabiting a shared space but belonging to different realms. Their repertoire is drawn from classic folktale themes: civil virtues of hearth and home forever beset by untamed natural forces, i.e. large furry animals.

Leitmotifs of skewed domesticity and gentrified wildlife run throughout these storybook stills, creating a shadow play of nature and nurture, whimsy and menace, poetry and prose. Here chiaroscuro is both means and metaphor. Formally, it defines the visual language of the images, but under the surface it motivates a thematic play of opposites and a blurring of distinctions in the half-shadow. The dryads may be ethereal, but they adapt to the changing landscape and are not above vacuuming when necessary. They metamorphose without ado just as pieces of the forest transform into fire in the stove. The moths too navigate manifold identities as they hover between romantic anthropomorphism and modern electric lighting. In this twilit world roles unravel: nature grows domestic and the demure transforms into a prowling dragonfly while her male companion/prey keeps house and plays the bathing beauty.

The oneiric dimensions of these scenes belie an undercurrent of autobiography. Details from my daily life and relationships find their place in the images, albeit transfigured. In this game of self-portraiture, dress-up and playing house, my husband and I are the two protagonists, variously disguised and revised, and always trading animal, social and gender roles. Like children testing the natural order, we play at timelessness but ever remain creatures of circumstance.

Electric light is effectively the third actor, standing in for the twenty-first century in this staged world where the wilderness is only as far away as a long extension cord. It at once lends a magical glow to the scene and illuminates the unglamorous mechanisms of a post-industrial world. The signs of industry and artifice are neither eschewed nor extolled, but included with frank self-consciousness. The shutter release cable snaking unceremoniously from subject to viewer is Ariadne's updated, multi-purpose thread. It draws the viewer into the depths of the story and provides an escape route back onto the set. When the lens opens, the light that fills the frame exposes the creature as the creator and fuses the telling into the tale.

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I use both 35mm and medium format cameras and shoot with slow slide film which I subsequently scan and digitally process. Final output takes the form of Lightjet C-prints from a digital file. The digital processing is not about imagistic trickery but simply crafting the tonal range and translating the richness of film through the digital domain and into the print. With the notable exception of an erased climbing harness in Chandelier, all scenes are shown as shot. The characteristic jewel hues and motion artefacts result from the properties of the film, the lighting, and long exposures of up to thirty seconds. The deep evening skies, for example, are the outcome of shooting during a very brief window of twilight.

The set and costume construction and shooting constitute a kind of performance with my husband and me as the variously disguised protagonists. The camera is mounted on a tripod, its shutter triggered by a timer or cable release. Each image has its own behind-the-scenes story.

Sleeper, Lamp. and Hearth feature moths, nocturnal flyers who are unrelentingly drawn to light. For these metamorphic insects who may use the moon as a navigational tool and whose short adult lives are spent exclusively in finding a mate, artificial light is a source of blinding disorientation and tantamount to death. In Lamp and Hearth, the mate/human is attempting to liberate her from the all-too bright indoors with the simple expedient of paper and jar. The moth is holding the cable release while jumping or moving her wings. The wings are constructed of cardboard, paper, glue and two tones of brown spray paint.

In Sleeper, the white moth is pressed against a window, attracted to the light while the cottager dozes and holds the cable release. Her costume consists of facial tissue glued to a slip and cardboard wings.

Sweeper features a predatory dragonfly (genus libellula) and her male companion/prey. She is perched, moving slightly, on the roof and her wings are constructed of tree branches, plastic, wire, thread and duct tape, and are mounted on a retrofitted backpack. They are designed to scale, i.e. the wing-to-body ratio matches that of a dragonfly.

The oversized maple leaf in Evening Star is also made of branches, plastic and wire. It is attached to a custom-made table which stands on the riverbed in the shallows. The naïad is exclusively illumined by her candle at twilight. Serendipitously, Venus came into view just when the scene was being shot.

The realm of the dryad in Vacuum and Stoker has expanded beyond the forest grove into the modern world of commodity and consumption. All the while she watches over the trees, even as they become "resources". Her ginger steps and ambiguous glance at the stove stoker betray her doubts about her updated role as steward. The housekeeping dryad in Vacuum was photographed through a window and rather than a double exposure, the forest outside is seen in the window's reflection. Her dress is made of plastic, wire, and thread and she wears a birch bark tiara.

The After the Netherlands series bears tell-tale signs of 17th Century Dutch painting such as domestic settings with the window on the left, the carpet on the table, a meditative or suspended moment of daily life. The rabbit combines the morbidity of game-laden still lifes with Easter themes of renewal and abundance in an ironic, ambiguous comment on the paradoxes of plastic plenty. Meisje met konijn (Dutch, Girl with rabbit) is fashioned after Vermeer's letter-reading women and is shot with available light from the window. The rabbit costume was purchased in an antique store in Chicago.

Ariadne is in some ways an alter ego, belonging as she does to the Minoan myth of Daedalus's labyrinth. Here her golden thread leads into a maze of story — of nature and culture, of folios in the foliage.

— Anna Daedalus, 2004

Object Poems

David Abel curated the visual manifestations of the words in Object Poems, but his show is anything but literal. Included are 30 writers cum artists from three continents. Standouts include Portland’s own Anna and Leo Daedalus, whose “Ten Rocks” books paired with their mineral components and “Rock Speak” are utter beauties and James Yeary’s Untitled for Sachiko M, in which the artist has transformed a copy of Beckett’s The Unnameable by highlighting all but the white breaths between sentences.

(T.J. Norris, Willamette Week online, November 2011)