Visual Arts

Yuliya Lanina Channels the Dark Side of Children's Fairy Tales at Redbud Gallery

Fairy tales – or at least the original, unsanitized versions – are full of dark, menacing and downright disturbing stories of family homicide (Beauty and the Beast), child abandonment (Hansel and Gretel) and self-mutilation (The Little Mermaid, Rumpelstiltskin).

Austin-based multimedia artist Yuliya Lanina channels the dark side of children's lit in her new exhibit at Redbud Gallery, “Stories Untold.” Mixed in with a dozen acrylic and collage works on paper are four of her ingenious mechanical music boxes that are both inventive and whimsical.

Red Riding Hood and Vasilisa and Baba Yaga, both from 2015's “Once Upon a Time” series, are definitely not child's play. In the former, gremlin-laden trees sway back and forth to the music, intermittently revealing a predatory wolf with toothy grin. There's no mistaking Red's scream of terror, in spite of the tuneful melody by collaborator Yevgeniy Sharlat.

In the Russian fairy tale, Vasilisa the Beautiful is sent out by her stepmother (why is there always a stepparent?) to get light from the evil witch Baba Yaga. For this music box, Lanina rotates a trio of skulls (which in the story served as skull lanterns) while the dark-eyed witch with pendulous breasts and black feline familiar leers at the little girl, who clutches for protection the tiny wooden doll given by her mother on her deathbed.


Lanina, never content to work in just one dimension, has been known to fuse media in the past with her performance art, animation, paintings, film, animatronics, public art and writings. In addition to original compositions by Sharlat and technical development by Theodore Johnson, these wind-up sculptures are accompanied by print-outs of stories from poets. Dean Young's words accompany Vasilisa and Baba Yaga, “All music after all is redundant meaning it won't end"; words by Cecily Parks are paired with Red Riding Hood, “The wolfish branches graze the soft outsides of her thighs”; and – for Havroshechka, from her 2016 series, “Once Upon a Time” – the text is by Taisia Kitaiskaia, “[I wish you] a dead fish coat so stinky no one will touch you. Teach you to fry evil eyes in a pan.” Those "evil eyes," of course, refer to the daughters of Havroshechka's benefactor: One-Eye, Two-Eyes and Three-Eyes.

The acrylic and collage works on paper – which display nicely on the dark red walls of Redbud Gallery with their generous use of negative space – mostly contain human-animal hybrids. The characters are sometimes engaged in provocative poses or self-gratification, with an overarching carnivalesque or circus theme. Taimer features a red-corseted female body holding a whip, though she sports an oversized tiger's head, while Why? shows a lion with human lips gazing inquisitively at the viewer as a human arm takes aim with a revolver.

A monkey-faced, single-breasted woman is engaged in self-pleasure in Awww-kward, though her stockings and red high heels suggest that sex was definitely on the menu. In Sad, the topless heroine is wearing a short red skirt and thigh-high stockings, while a third arm grasps her left breast.

“Stories Untold” continues through September 25 at Redbud Gallery, 303 East 11th Street, open Fridays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., 713-862-2532, redbudgallery.com. Free.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney