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Decapoda goes to the Forest


From the very first time that I heard it as a child I have had strong (almost gut) feelings concerning the tale of Little Red Riding Hood: I was horrified by the killing of the wolf. Inconsolable, in fact – to the point where my father had to invent a whole new ending to the story so that I would stop the tantrum that the actual tale had provoked.

So, when storyteller Heidi Dahlsveen, with whom I have collaborated on wonderful projects before, asked me to work on “the other side of the tale” of LRRH I said yes immediately since I saw a way of laying my old childhood demons to rest by doing so. The Companion, Heidi’s island upon which my landscape is displayed together with Soror Nishi and Cherry Manga‘s gorgeous interpretations of “the other side of the story” will open to the public in a few more days.

I am not very good with stories, and I am especially not good with ending stories, so my tale of the other side of LRRH is also without an end. (Although, I have been toying around with some kind of ending which I may yet do at the end of the show in April, if Heidi will be able to give me the extra time for that since it will mean a lot of re-building).

My problem with ending stories is that unfortunately my mind seems to only work through absurd connections that inevitably lead to further complexities; and absurd connections and complexities usually do not wrap things up, but instead leave them hanging in a most unsatisfactory manner.

My “other side of the story” favors the wolf. And here things already get quite complicated since the story starts with the wolf killing the grandmother. And then LRRH kills the wolf (or has the hunter help her do it – but the hunter is not really a major figure here, I don’t think). So, why is LRRH a monster for me – and always has been? And why isn’t the wolf so, even though he started it all by killing grandma? The wolf kills to eat, and that is what wolves do. For him grandma is “meat.” LRRH however kills for a vendetta – to mete punishment upon a creature for following his need for nourishment. Which, in my book, makes her a murderess par excellence. Whereas the wolf is just like the rest of us – merrily sitting down to his juicy steak… And I am fairly certain that I saw this distinction even when I was a small child.

Yes, of course there are vastly complex symbolic aspects to this tale, such as sexual ones; or there is a homily in there about children not talking to strangers (which LRRH does in the beginning – she talks to a wolf who stands in lieu of  a stranger, a man she doesn’t know). I know that this is an allegory. The tale has its roots in medieval myths that revolve around the “werewolf.” I know all of this today – as an adult, yes.

However, at the end of the day, isn’t this meant to be told to little children? Are they likely to understand any of this symbolism? (Truly, I do not know the answer to this one, never having had much to do with small children myself). So, will they get the metaphors here? That this is an allegory? That there are many ways of interpreting all this and many levels of looking at this tale?

Or will they only be able to grasp the bare facts (like I did too, all those years ago): Wolf eats grandmother > Bad bad wolf! > Has to be punished!> LRRH seizes the moment! > Wolf gets stuffed with rocks > Serves him right!

And then the very cruelty of the punishment itself – getting stuffed with rocks!

Through the persona of LRRH I am putting us human beings in the dock, and I admit that I am relentless about it too. There is no compromise here, this story (for me) is one that brings a human being face to face with a member of another species on a one on one basis; and unfortunately, as the confrontation unfolds it brings to light some of our most unpleasant “human” characteristics: Be like me – or die! I will absolutely refuse to understand the needs of your nature! I will be utterly devoid of empathy towards “the other”  – in this particular case a non-human life form. And, oh yes – we are also extremely good at punishing “the other,” at sitting in judgement, at being self-satisfied moralists…

I do not think that I will win a lot of popularity contests with what I have done. I fear that my “other side of the tale” is uncomfortable – and as said, I am not willing to soften the blow in any way. I am obstinate in my belief, prejudiced and one-sided: For me, there is no redemption for humanity in this. And there really isn’t, as far as I can judge, you know? Not that what I made here is an “environmentalist work,” or not that I am a big voice for environmentalist causes (I am a major polluter myself – so, how could I possibly be?), but we have managed to wipe out how many species? 1000s? 10s of thousands? And wolves, I believe, are on the brink of joining the list?

How could this have come to pass? If we were so wonderful, how could we have done that? Butchered millions of beavers for fur? Festooned ourselves with minks and foxes? Covered our floors with animal pelts and mounted hunt trophies on our walls? And obviously none of these types of actions happened out of survival instincts – had they done so that would have made the whole sordid affair different in its very essence, since it would have made it akin to what all other predators do as well – spontaneous, indeed uncontrolled, impulsive. (It is the long-term strategizing, the “goal” in human killing that goes way beyond the actual hunt itself, that I find so awful… And yes, it could be argued here that some predators, domesticated cats especially, also kill for sport – which is probably one of the (hidden) reasons why we love them so much. But, wouldn’t the difference there be that feline sport only gives momentary satisfaction to the hunter, is thus essentially spontaneous?)…

With us it isn’t solely out of the spontaneous impulse of the hunt itself, and it isn’t only out of a need for food that we kill – our killer “instinct” comes out of a repulsive, deliberate self-righteousness, out of a notion of “entitlement.” And it comes especially out of that horrifying sense that we carry in our psyches of “the other” that validates this notion of entitlement, that makes it perfectly OK, indeed highly justifiable, to murder all other creatures that do not belong to our ilk, and that we are therefore not obliged to understand or to identify with…

Anyway, as said, my mind seems to work best upon absurdities. As I built my forest I decided to bring in another creature. Purely through visual association, at first: I used Ernst Haeckel’s biological drawings for the foliage of the woods. And then, I had used some other Haeckel drawings for an avatar that I made a couple of years ago. This is a “Decapoda” – a lobster, in other words. So, somehow Decapoda has now found her way into the forest. And the ending I have in mind may be all about lobsters… Scavenging animals that basically do no one any harm and that are almost impossible for us humans to not to see as “the other.” So ugly, so alien; and therefore, so eminently deserving of landing in cauldrons of boiling water.

So, I think in my tale they will now be the ones to save the day…

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And – at the end, a clarifying note will definitely be needed, I think – so here it goes: By writing about all this I am not under any illusion that I am exempt from any of it. I recognize and acknowledge all of what I wrote above in myself. Sometimes overt, sometimes hidden – but nevertheless all there. Self-evident really, no need to even say this – had I not recognized it in myself, how could I have written it? But I still wanted to make a point of stating this, just in case…

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*** I said yes immediately because I knew that I had the material to do it, thanks to long-lost, good friend Leben Schnabel, whose wolf head and paws I used as the pivotal elements of the rezz. Without these crucial bits I probably could not even have contemplated any of this…