Swedish artist, lives and work in Stockholm

What the memory selects and the dream sees

Written by: Monica Nieckels

1 Studies worthy of note:
Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses 
of Enchantment: The 
Meaning and Importance of 
Fairy Tales, Knopf, New 
York, 1976; a cross cultural 
study, James A Taggart, 
Enchanted Maidens: Gender 
Relations in Spanish 
Folktales of Courtship and 
Marriage, Princeton 
University Press, New 
Jersey, 1990 

2 ibid., Bruno Bettelheim,
The Uses of Enchantment, 
p. 201: ‘failing to develop 
into mature humanity, are 
permanently arrested on a 
pre-oedipal level (dwarfs 
have no parents, nor do 
they marry or have 
children) and are but foils 
to set off the important 
developments taking place 
in Snow White’ 

3 ‘All seven of them sat around it, and wept for her, and wept three days long’, 
The Complete Grimm’s Fairy 
Tales, Pantheon, New York, 
1944, p256 

Meta Isæus-Berlin

THE FAIRY-TALE OF SNOW WHITE IS TRADITIONALLY PRESUMED to represent a role model for the development of the girl child through adolescence to young adulthood. The Snow White story plots the maturation journey through a succession of separations from 
the mother (real mother, and wicked stepmother), towards an increasing preparedness and acceptance of the good father (the Huntsman and the Seven Dwarfs), until the young woman is ushered into a fully adult relationship by the ultimate partner, her ‘husband/father’ (Prince), whose devotion offers her ‘life’

Meta Isæus-Berlin, however, takes a more curious, and in contemporary terms, more plausible position of enquiry when she reinstates sexuality to the seven Iittle men with whom Snow White lives for several years through the period of her own emerging sexuality. In this installation, the second in which Meta Isæus-Berlin has used the Snow White fairy-tale as a basis for her investigations into subliminal desiring, she contemplates the questions: what happens to the seven dwarfs when they are abandoned by Snow White?; and what were their feelings for Snow White while she remained in their presence? In her first installation, The Seven Dwarfs 1997 Isæus-Berlin already questioned the long held and insultingly spurious idea that dwarfs are ‘arrested on a preoedipal level … and are but foils to set off the important developments taking place in Snow White.

.2 In her installation of seven little beds shrouded in the white gauze of virginal mourning, Isæus-Berlin evoked the idea that the Dwarfs were sexual beings, and, while not acting upon their
urges, were clearly awaiting, with the mixed emotions of anxiety and desire, the potential of their own carnal debut with Snow White. The tension of this waiting was emphasised by the strict dormitory and tautly madeup beds which deflected their potential use. Their scaled down size further emphasized the Dwarfs’ conflicting symbolic status as men or children. But as we now know from Freud, Klein et al, both male children and men have sexual yearnings as is the case for the female child and woman. In this second installation, the beds, previously made up and ready, but unruffled, are now filled with an excess of confusing and conflicting emotions. Exploring and extending her previous use of water and excessive liquids, Isæus-BerIin presents each Iittle Dwarf’s bed as a pool: filled up with the metaphoric tears of both frustration and loss.3 Wet beds filled with dreams and fantasies that resist the claim of pre-oedipal status, and in fact suggest a fully grown desiring love for Snow White. And beds of bitter tears of abandonment and loss, the result of losing their Iittle girl to another man.

Of course: wet dreams.
Isæus-Berlin questions Snow White as a model to plot the simplistic and father/husband oriented development of the daughter/wife, seeing it as fundamentally more complicated and oriented towards the full range of son/mother/father/daughter complexes which lack clarity and easy resolution. Hers is an intuitive reading, and in the tradition of story-telling itself, one that embellishes and takes into account the newer conditions of a present day sociology. Not so much a feminist rereading in the model of Angela Carter, Isæus-Berlin’s reinterpretation attempts another kind of understaning that might take account of the emotions and fantasies which are involved in reaching
sexual maturity: never so simplistic as the tales would tell it.

Meta Isæus-Berlin
Chair Beside Bed 1998
Mixed media
Dimensions variable
Courtesy Andréhn-
Schiptjenko, Stockholm