A Promise of a Fairytale

In a certain kingdom, in а certain land… Many fairytales start like this. The one you’re holding now is not an exception. This certain kingdom, certain land is an utopian dreamlike realm where the good overcomes the evil, where a betrothed is brought back with the help of a falcon’s feather, a villain is destroyed by breaking a needle’s point, and with “living” and “dead” waters one resurrects a hero who has been murdered and cut up into pieces. A folktale is about miracles and triumphing over injustice, poverty, woe and death itself.

“Yearning for the impossible lives to some degree in every man and draws us back again and again to the folktale as to the fulfilment of all wishes, though we know it’s make-believe. We would all like to have a magic wand or a magic formula to make the impossible come true. Thus the folktale answers profound inner needs in man with his striving for the best in his own destiny and in overall life”, says Andrei Sinyavsky, Russian writer, literary scholar and critic, who dedicated most of his life to researching Russian folk culture and folklore.

“Generally speaking, a folktale means victory over the dark forces, the universal evil. That’s why all folktales have a happy ending, with very rare exceptions”, Sinyavsky goes on. But Andrei Ivanov’s tale does not only have no happy ending, it seems to lack and ending whatsoever. Why is that?

An answer to this question is for the viewers to find. An X-ray photo of a Russian Matrioshka doll on the cover hints that this isn’t going to be a simple task. It’s quite easy to get lost in the folktale’s labyrinth of layers, where different trials await the hero, as is right and proper. Maybe the answer is hidden like Koshchei’s needle in an egg, the egg in a duck, the duck in a hare, the hare in a chest, the chest buried under a great oak tree. And a long and winding road leads to this chest. One of the initial pictures in the book, showing a striped “guiding thread” meandering among the frost-covered grass, is inviting to a journey.

The viewer becomes the fairytale’s hero. Go there I know not where, bring back what I know not. A name for the book and also a fantastic dictate with childhood familiarity. It is true for the tale-teller and for the hero likewise, who just like Ivan Tzarevich or Nastenka (Russian folktale heroes) endeavours to find something that is absent. The path is filled with hardships and jolly fabulous nonsense. It lies through a magical forest with mystical landmarks, grassy glades, with wood spirits and other creatures, made by nature and the folk’s imagination, scattered generously across the land and discovered by an observant creator.

“Fairytale colors have a luminescence that seems to set objects on fire, so that the very word skazochny (fairy-tale) phosphoresces in the mind’s eye. The colors here are mixed with fire, melted down and suffused with gold. Gold plays the role of color hyperbole, of additional illumination, of a setting in which the image sparkles like a semiprecious stone”. That’s how Andrei Sinyavsky describes the chromatic nature of a fairytale. And all over the book one may observe the very words manifest themselves.

The fairytale beckons to take a close look and leaves the good viewer with “a thousand and one” messages along the soft spin of a ring-like story. Where does the inner space in the opening on pages 5 and 6 begin and where does it end? What hides in the picture of a winter forest? Is it the same place or different ones, is this real or fictitious, are these bones or branches? Which motif is woven into the ornament on the translucent pages? What is the meaning of the magical items we see scanned in the book, and through which the fairytale arbitrariness is acted out in the folktale itself?

The images act like the water living and dead, conjuring up sensations and images that go way back. Thus flows the fairytale through time and space, from ancient times to present days, weaving newer and newer generations into its fabulous yarn: once it was the author, who was introduced to fairytale by his parents, and now his children follow the enchanted path in his footsteps.

They say strangers are disliked in the fairyland, and the fairytales do not quite well adapt to modern times. However in Ivanov’s book the time itself seems to be constantly overturned. A teller is deep in thought resting her elbows on a table with a Russian samovar and a tablecloth with bus patterns. Spirits of nature turn to stone under policemen’s gaze. An arrow is caught between reeds in a brumal bog. A wolf’s tail is sticking out of an ice hole…

Believe what you see. More that half of the pictures were made in everyday life and in most common places.

Time and space in Andrei Ivanov’s book are rather vague, though they matter. But the most important thing in a fairytale is the path. While the tale spins, and the journey continues, there is a choice. To the left you’ll go – to the Metro you’ll get, to the right you’ll go – to the Council building you’ll arrive, forward you’ll go – across Baba Yaga you’ll come. The main thing is that the promise of fairytale is being kept: everything will be fine, the folk will be feasting in Tzar’s palaces, the mummy will be taken away from the Red Square, Emelya will catch the talking pike, Koshchei will die, Nastenka will wake Finist the Falcon.

And I was there, and I drank mead and beer; it ran down my moustache but didn’t go into my mouth.


Alla Mirovskaya, curator