Object Stories

Snow White: Source

Flayed donkey skin, talking mirrors, amputated fingers, dead wolves heads, magic beans, and spinning wheels….

Entering the Museum of Fairy Tales in Bergen one is confronted with a vast array of exhibits from across the torrid world of fairy tales; from the breadcrumbs of Hansel and Gretel to locks of Rapunzel's hair and a large glass stand containing the eponymous cloak of one Little Red Riding Hood. Cinderella's glass slipper is however noticeably missing, having cracked several days previously, and now awaits repair by Benjamin Mikaels, the owner, chief curator, and my guide through this manifestation of physical storytelling.

Despite some minor taunting Benjamin refuses to confirm that the exhibits are indeed someone’s creations, but promises that at least one is indeed the genuine article. I could find no visible glint in the eye when he made this statement but I am convinced it is the poisoned red apple — it does indeed look convincingly like menace in waiting.

Red Riding Hood: Source

Throughout the maze-like structure of the building are less wandered rooms that spotlight lesser known fairy tales. The kind of tales that Disney censors would swiftly ignore and the kind that are quickly skipped through by fearful parents in an accidental reading of any weightly volume enspined with the word ‘Grimm’. Many relate to less well known fairy tales from central European countries than have never seen the light of day until recently — muddled variations on more popular tales but mutated and twisted to extraordinary degrees, many missing the essential elements we are so familiar with and stopping abruptly for no reason, the objects relating to them similarly unfamiliar. Odd dry fruits, pieces of clothing, and jars of pungent spices litter the corridors on stands.

There are also rooms filled with objects, both everyday and strange, that apparently hold a story either in waiting or lost forever, or perhaps signaling nothing but to scholars and historians — still in their boxes and ready for display or to be taken to storage until their stories are finally found or rise from obscurity. Objects lying in wait for stories that will fill them.

Puss in Boots: Source

It is intriquing to speculate on whether the Grimms and others added or removed objects from stories at the behest of traders for fear of sullying their sales. Indeed perhaps they were not authors of fairy tales at all but merely editors of the first shopping catalog, the earliest example of product placement hidden amid stories we tell children. The same could be said of the lasting influence of the stories themselves — just how many girls came to grow their hair excessively long, or to lean down to kiss a captured frog, but later die from kissing the poisonous skin of a toad.

Donkeyskin: Source

There is something primal about the lack of text in the museum — it seems fitting to the oral origins of the tales, and solidifies the permanence of story, untethered by a connection with the written word. In fact it could be argued that the written word is what ensnared and trapped them, like drugged animals set in a leather bound zoological park for eternity.

Contrasting the familiar story objects with the blank objects harder to pin a tale to, one feels a sense of confusion rising. A loss of story and identity manifests in physical form left alone with an unrelatable object for too long. And yet new stories form slowly the more one stares. This is common my guide assures me— and he leads me to the hidden backroom building where more potent experiments in story objects occur, free of the trammels of fairy tales.

Cinderella: Source

Here new stories are created solely through the arrangement of objects on special tables. Readers move among the ‘story tables’ deep in concentration. Elsewhere more elaborate stories stretch through whole corridors or layers of custom built shelving. However it is explained to me that with this often permanent relationship between object and meaning established it becomes harder for storytellers to tell new stories without finding new objects with which to associate with them. Obscure cultural artifacts become much sought after and existing objects are transformed and adapted. When even more desperate measures are required sculptors are employed to create new unique objects in growing levels of narrative sophistication. Poetry objects. Horror objects. Fruit becomes the reserve of mainstream fiction while vegetables tend to be reserved for genre fiction. Small metallic objects are used for futurist tales and mysteries.

Hansel and Gretel: Source

There are also attempts to reconstruct the meaning of overly familiar objects, like the crucifix, so they can be reused to tell other tales, and to solve the growing problem of objects of national importance left stranded in foreign countries— for example fruits that cannot be grown anymore except in foreign climes. A form of object trade war can result requiring narrative diplomacy.

It is late evening as I leave the Museum, clutching a bag of shop bought souvenirs. Miniature objects representing some of my favorite objects from the exhibition. Stories of stories in footnote form. Back in the everyday, ordinary objects appear newly sharp in focus and one is left walking and mythologising on their stories, from manholes to sweet wrappers and forks. Red apples are no longer red apples anymore but stories to be swallowed.

Fishing Roads of America

Rogers Pass: Source

Amid the fishing roads of East Cuhain, Albert Amber stakes his claim on a two lane dust off where traffic is occasionally dangerous enough to do your fishing for you. He only fishes Sunday afternoon – it's the only time he gets, when and if he gets it. And if he doesn't get it, don't even think about talking to him at the store or he may just make you regret it. His dog Samuel does not seem smart enough to be in on the escapade, he just knows, that when a fish is caught he gets his share. And all for a lousy four hours sitting idly by. Easy money.

Highway 1: Source

There are over 4,00 fishing roads in America. Some are signed, Most are not. If you find one, don't expect to know it, expect to feel it. The road fishermen know when to keep a good thing good. And a good thing good is a thing you have to find. For road fish traverse that inescapable confusion between liquid and solid. Between the habits of distant mountains and those of dreaming journeymen.

Nevada: Source

There are wild fisheries where road fish can be bought without so much effort, but most people in the know will tell you they don't taste as good unless you've caught them yourself. As Albert himself puts it, 'pull a line with a fish on the other end of it and you pull in a little piece of heaven.'

Highway: Source

However, the days of the big fish run are long gone, as road fish become rarer and rarer. So too do the fishermen themselves and the days when motels would be filled with eager fishing groups, swapping tips and trading exotic lures. Back then You can find everything fishing was the catchcall of the Universal Fishermen, a group that expanded the techniques of the common fisherman to something of a unwritten science. But as many have discovered the mathematics of fishing provides few solutions, only more problems.

Road to Prairie Rose State Park: Source

Albert prides himself on keeping alive the memories of those fishermen who previously fished at this same spot for many years. A small memorial by a cottonwood tree marks their names. Yet their catches live on, stuffed and decorating houses where the wallpaper is oily to the touch and dreams come in threes.

Highway 280: Source

Today, more often than not, highways are where the big game hunters prowl the night time air with long fiberglass rods that are hard to see, stretching as they do anonymously out of the trees and bushes. But Albert and many remaining like him still prefer to sit in the shade by a quiet road of a Sunday afternoon and wait for that one good bite. And if it doesn't come, well that as Albert would say raising a beer matter of factly, 'is why it is called fishing.'

Geology of Memory

Diploria strigosa: Source

In 1875, when the wife of geologist Arthur Cybelene died he sought to have her body fossilised and added to his vast fossil collection. His request was denied but created enough curiosity and interest to spark the popular trend of imitation fossils created in a loved one's likeness, something that became especially popular incorporated into headstones as a design feature. A kind of solidification of love in physical form.

The wish to preserve a loved one is a hidden natural instinct, but during the Victorian age mortality was constantly on the mind. Post mortem photographs of deceased children were a popular memento mori, a side effect that came with the rising popularity of photography, replacing the painted portrait and the death mask with a trapped frame of time that must surely have unnerved when it first arrived on the mantlepiece. It is perhaps no surprise that the fossil also became a powerful, less direct, symbol of this perilous mortality.

Death portrait: Source

Victorians began to concider earnestly for the first time notions of how they would themselves be remembered and their legacy to the world. Philanthropic societies and humanist writing were on the rise. Egyptian mummies shipped back to England as souvenirs were unwrapped in elaborate party games to uncover trinkets and stare back at the past. Their new found craze for fossil hunting was less about the search for a species of animal or plant than a species of memory.

Fossils acquired an aesthetic power that was akin to holding frozen objects of time itself; time, death and immortality being constantly on the mind of the age. There was alternate speculation that fossils were traces of the future, not the past. Future creatures awaiting birth, hiding in stone until released and birthed into the present. Dinosaurs that awaited us fully formed to be faced by some distant future generation. Stone could no longer be looked upon without an air of trepidation at what lay inside. Only geologists held the key to understanding what dangers might be present. Fanciful newspaper articles by dubiously credited geologists became ever more prevelant that mixed superstition, fire and brimstone with the fresh science that only futher befuddled the ordinary public.

Heck's Pictorial Atlas: Source

New thinking was also burgeoning in the shift from the local church graveyard to notions of a new secular cemetery, where the dead could at last be kept beyond city limits and allay fears of spreading disease and devouring precious space. Before the Victorian gridded cemetery we know today became the standard, many other experimental graveyard prototypes were being concidered. The Burial Commission of the British Government sought submissions from anyone with ideas. Many still exist to this day, hidden is quiet copses or abandoned quarries, or left as merely archived plans. One example involved bodies being buried in trees that created a form of forest cemetery. Another involved the reconstitution of body parts to form building material for sculptures and a 'death wall'. Other burial experiments abounded with less orthodox results.

Victorian cemetery: Source

Arthur Cybelene was one among many others who sought out alternatives to the graveyard as a physical afterlife, and was keen to experiment with systems of Taphonomy–or means by which the body decays and eventually becomes stone. In order for an organism to be fossilised the remains need to be covered by sediment as soon as possible. His initial research uncovered the Lanesbury Pit, where successive generations of a small town community had sunk artifacts and dead ones in its muddy pits to create a fossilised vertical cultural record that was an alternative to the horizontal system of the new Victorian cemetery design; free land in Lanesbury being in such short supply due to its narrow coastline. A future age would uncover this pit as a complete vertical cabinet of wonders in stone, assuming the geology of the region remained stable.

Louis Daguerre, Arrangement of Fossil Shells: Source

In 1889 Arthur Cybelene founded the Gorgonian Foundation that would offer fossilisation on demand, for those that wished to add themselves to the vast geological record of life in stone, rather than disintegrating slowly in an empty box underground. He also claimed to have reduced the fossilisation process to mere hundreds of years. Unfortunately by this time burial experimentation had gotten so out of hand the Burial Commission was left to enforce a strict decision that the traditional grid cemetery was the only sanctioned design. No doubt a response to rumors of a cemetery said to contain twenty six people that were buried alive, held in the contorted shapes of letters of the alphabet, and many other aberrations of cemetery design rumored to exist.

Arthur Cybelene died in 1898 from typhoid fever. His body was cremated and his ashes moulded into a pseudo fossil of a common ammonite, and added at his family's request to his extensive fossil collection.

Fountains Of Dissent

Architectural drawing: Source

In 1932, the quiet Italian town of Ridona's sanitation works were unexpectedly re-routed to its system of ancient mannerist public fountains. For five days the public squares were abandoned as they became displays to the residents very public ablutions.

It remains undocumented what triggered this malicious action but there were speculations of a dispute between the town's Mayor and its fountain engineers who were unhappy with the prevailing right wing local government policies.

Fountain head: Source

Despite the inconvenience however, tourists from surrounding areas came to the small town in such vast numbers to see the vulgar displays that the Mayor decided to continue the activity in a select few fountains in a square away from market stalls, and prevailing winds. During festivals the local community had even come to agree a timetable of food choices known for their unique coloring after effects - bringing added spectacle to the fountains unsightly appearance.

Map of Rome detail: Source

Historically it is not uncommon for towns and cities to become well known for the notorious reputations they gather through time. The favors of respected towns are more easily waylaid than one would imagine, and likewise many a wayward town's reputation has been restored after long distant atrocities slip from the collective memory, either with the passage of time or through deliberated plotting. In the years before the birth of the independent tourist guide, it is after all often mayors and town fathers that more often than not would set the agenda for what posterity would curate.

Composite image: Source

Many of the first tourist guides found themselves persecuted and manhandled or worse tricked with an illusionary presentation of town life that would return to normality after they had left. Tourist guide writers were forced to go to such lengths to review a location unnoticed that they became many of the earliest adopters of crude cosmetic surgery to reshape their appearance convincingly. Despite elaborate tourist guide tracking services that were engaged in by cities and towns it became harder and harder to follow their movements. It was only then that the first true tourist guides emerged. The first identikits were doubtless those designed to annotate the characteristics of the average tourist guide.

It is unlikely in any case that Ridona's tourist guide will mention what became of that rebellious water engineer, whose remains to this day permanently flow around the city's water system as punishment.