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Invisible Beasts was an exhibition held at Creative Up North in North Shields. It featured the monstrous work of artists from the North East of England. Each artist interpreted the theme and worked on unique pieces specially for the exhibition. A book was made to accompany and document the exhibition, copies can be bought from Paul Thompson, exhibition organiser.
Red Riding Hood
Red Riding Hood is a cautionary tale about a girl in a red cloak, her journey through the forest to visit her sick grandma and the wolf she meets on the way. The simple interpretation of Red Riding Hood is the standard don’t talk to strangers and follow the advice of your elders. However Red Riding Hood can represent a lot more, the curiosity of children, forging your own path, coming of age, escaping the arbitrary rules of society, the dangers of the wilderness and the bad aspects of human nature. There is a lot of symbolism in the red cloak too – the sun being swallowed by darkness (the wolf) each night, red as a dangerous colour, the colour of blood.
Within minutes of travelling down the safe forest path Red Riding Hood, depending on the version you read, is either tempted from the path by the Big Bad Wolf or strays of her own curiosity, to later encounter the wolf. The wolf and the forest are the danger that results from disobedience and not following the existing path. The forest is a place for wild things, outside of the control of humans and the wolf is one of those wild things. The wolf represents the bad aspects of humanity, temptation, gluttony, duality. The wolf acts as a friend to Red Riding Hood, asking where she’s going and why. The Big Bad Wolf decides he’d like to eat not just Red Riding Hood but the basket of food and Grandma too. He convinces Red Riding Hood to stop and pick some flowers while he goes on ahead to deal with Grandma.
The wolf arrives at Grandma’s house and eats her whole, putting on his best Grandma disguise to further deceive Red Riding Hood. Grandma spends most of this story inside a wolf’s belly, she represents the fragile nature of life, the consequences of not following the rules but also, eventually survival. Despite being old, sick, frail, eaten by a wolf and then cut out again Grandma survives. She will outlast us all. Red Riding Hood arrives at Grandma’s house with her basket of food and some freshly picked flowers. She’s suspicious of the wolf in Grandma’s clothing but doesn’t have time to figure it out before she’s swallowed whole by the wolf. What a fine end to the story, see what disobeying the rules of society gets you? It gets you eaten.
Where’s The Woodcutter?
In some versions of the story a woodcutter, or hunter happens to be passing Grandma’s house at this point. His role in society is fighting the forest or the wild things that live in it. The woodcutter/hunter cuts the wolf open while it sleeps and frees Red Riding Hood and her Grandma. They then fill the wolf’s stomach with stones, they suppress the bad aspects of humanity under a big pile of rocks. When the wolf wakes up he collapses under all that weight and dies. It seems the woodcutter isn’t so much a character as a device to end the story. Maybe he represents the good aspects of humanity that Red Riding Hood left behind when she strayed into the forest, the opposite to the wolf. Maybe he shows that not all strangers are bad. Either way he lacks the characteristics needed to be depicted as a creature.
Here are some of the developmental sketches for these pieces.