Amber Church sits on a bar stool in Rah Rah Gallery, a new art space, café, and baron Sixth Avenue in Whitehorse, and gazes upon the opposite wall. “Essentially, my imagination is plastered up there,” says Church. “Its wonderful to see my off-kilter world-view on display.”
Church is referring to “Once Upon a Time: Fair Tales Reimagined”, her latest mixed media solo show, featuring 18 pieces of eye-poppingly colourful artwork, in which traditional fairytales like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves are re-imagined and deconstructed.
“I was altering a book with fairytale imagery and it exploded out of my control,” says Church of her inspiration for the show. She became interested in space between the traditional tales, as written by the Brothers Grimm, and the way they have been repackaged for modern consumers.
“The stories are so universal, but they have been changed in our cultural context thanks to Disney,” she says. “Some people find them [the original Brothers Grimm stories] a little bit creepy.”
So Church set about doing some repackaging of her own. A few pieces of her artwork are actually storybooks that she has constructed herself, with characters that can literally leap off the page. However, the majority of her works on display are collages; a mind-bending mixture of acrylic paint, pastels, found images, and text, which in some cases is taken straight from the original story.
However, once one gets over the initial vibrancy of the work, little subversive touches reveal themselves. For example, there is one collage dedicated to the Pied Piper and another one featuring the Mad Hatter. In each of these, the traditionally male characters have been portrayed as female. I
In some ways the work in “Once Upon a Time” is something Church has been building towards for most of her life. “I did certainly buy into all those fairy tales a bit when I was younger, but there were also a lot of strong women in my family,” she says. As a result something about the fairy tales didn’t quite ring true for Church.
“I wondered why the princesses had to be so helpless. I didn’t understand because I didn’t feel that way myself.”
Though Church says she did not conceive of her show being political in nature, she is well aware that some people will interpret it that way.
“As I was working on it, [my husband] said, ‘You know this is really feminist, don’t you?'”
Church doesn’t seem too bothered by the label, instead taking no small amount of joy in forcing people to consider how these contextualized stories have shaped their belief systems.
“When we think of fairy tales we think of perfect skin and tiny waists,” she says. “My show (gives the characters) almost a punk rock feeling. They have piercings and mohawks, tattoos, and mismatched eyes.”
Church took some of the found images from beauty magazines, but altered them in such a way that that they would not be recognizable if you were to flip through such a magazine.
“Taking [the images] and changing them makes people stop,” says Church. It’s another sly subversion of our concept of beauty.
Lauren Tuck, the proprietor of the Rah Rah Gallery, is enjoying the opportunity to reexamine her own relationship to fairy tales.
“The colours are fantastic, the stories are interesting and it’s not very often that we revisit (these stories), even though they play a large role in shaping our beliefs,” says Tuck.
Church hopes her installation will speak—and speak loudly—to others the way it does to Tuck. It’s why she chose such vibrant hues.
“I want the colours to scream at people,” she says.
“Once Upon a Time” is on display at the Rah Rah Gallery (6159 Sixth Ave.) until Oct. 27.
Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon