SCREEN: In the Cellar there is a wolf by Alex Wissel

Artist: Alex Wissel

Title: In the Cellar there is a wolf

Curated by: Ana Iwataki and Marion Vasseur Raluy

Screening: March 20 – April 10, 2017

Year: 2017

Duration: 2’15”

All images copyright and courtesy of the artist

In the 17th century, the fairytale was solemnly introduced into the grand genre of theatre. Conceived as a way to revive the theater of fantasy, the fairy tale was first adapted as a spectacular mise en scène using machinery, music and dance to renew the fantastical.  Perrault’s tales were adapted for theater to increase their dramatic effects. But the first uses of the fantastical and the spectacular eventually fell out of favor, especially after Diderot’s theory of the drame bourgeois. This new genre was more realistic and pertinent to actual issues of society, leaving behind the magical aspects of spectacle. Nevertheless, since their inception, fairy tales have been continuously studied and adapted. Little Red Riding Hood, one of Perrault’s most famous tales, has an inherent plasticity that makes it particularly suited for adaptations. The entire story is immediately recognizable by virtue of just a few details- the red cape can be enough to understand the reference. In contemporary versions, the fantastical aspects have often disappeared to leave more importance to the dialogue and acting. Adaptations have also expanded their boundaries to integrate other fields such as contemporary art.

In the case of Alex Wissel’s “In The Cellar There Is A Wolf ”, the artist proposes to connect theatre, stage, fairy tale and art, associating the various lives and characteristics of previous adaptations, all with the awareness that this story has been used and re-used to the point where it is almost impossible to find innovative ways of showing it. The radicality of Wissel’s proposal is in his capacity to push the dialogue between the child and wolf to explicit lechery, through a re-worked text and an almost complete disappearance of decor and costumes. The wolf, more sexualized than ever, is totally naked, revealing his tiny and flaccid phallus. His head is covered with hair and his mouth is purple, augmenting the tendentious nature of the character. Little Red Riding Hood has been reduced to a simple red cape and a floating head, only articulated by the artist’s arm and thumb. Two actors, an older man and a young girl, plunged into obscurity, encircle the artist, reading his adaptation. The choice of the two actors is revealing of a desire to underline the obscenity of the scene. The fantasy has been reduced to nothing: no more machines, no more decor, and no more spectacle, leaving only the cruelty and rawness of the text and the voice that manifests it. Restricted to the bare minimum, the artist develops a link between subversiveness, stage and art through a form of humour. This particular fairy tale has seen more than twenty different adaptations, reflecting eras and authors such as the Middle Ages, the Brothers Grimm and Perrault. Some oral versions have been discovered dating from 1000. Originally used as a didactic tool to teach farmers’ children how to behave, Perrault then adapted it for aristocratic children.

With this heritage, Wissel takes on another aspect of the fairy tale. Deconstructing its character, he chooses to propose a version not tied to a social class. He orients the text towards a quasi-philosophical interpretation in which the wolf, if he is lewd, is also revealed to be intellectual. He plays with this role, flitting between his humanity and his animality, evoking Man’s ambiguous condition. Exploring philosophical questions, intensifying the lubricious character of the story, and extracting himself from the spaces of contemporary art exhibitions, Wissel tends towards reflections not belonging to a specific era. He becomes part not of a specific contemporary conversation, but a heritage dating back more than 1000 years, posing questions that go beyond our contemporaneity. He evokes the fear of the forbidden and the fear of humanity’s essence itself. These two characters are allegories and thus less reflections of an epoch than vessels for evoking humanity and its contradictions. This metaphor of absurdities and of the cruelty of the human character presented on stage is a form of catharsis. In this sense, it re-establishes a connection to antique theatre and removes itself from a literal relationship to contemporary art. Does it imply that re-establishing a connection to humanity and its emotions, means breaking from the forms of contemporary art ? This perhaps explains the growing interest of artists in the stage, in theatre and in thinking about art beyond established forms.

-Marion Vasseur Raluy