Fairy tales have been told and retold so many times as to become part of the collective unconscious. Many have been manipulated until barely recognizable as descendants of Grimm Brothers tales and overt moral fables. Political incorrectness is smoothed over in modern renditions, and mentions of sex, alcohol, and violence are toned down or eliminated, even when their removal cripples the tale. All of this is done with parents in mind, as they are the commercial audience and the filter between children and the world. The inside cover of Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel, for instance, doesn’t even pretend that the book is marketed toward children: “His stunning oil paintings evoke not a barren, forbidding tower, but one of esoteric beauty and physical luxury; not an ugly witch who cruelly imprisons a young girl, but a mother figure who powerfully resists her child’s inevitable growth; and two young people who must struggle in the wilderness for the self-reliance that marks the true beginning of adulthood.” Sounds like a soap opera!
“Let Down Your Hair” highlights the distortion of modern fairy tale retellings. It is a sculptural edition of Rapunzel, a gigantic, 18-foot-long cascade of soft paper, secured by a bow. I use Zelinsky’s version of the tale, repeating it dozens of times to illustrate the way that fairy tales become homogenized by commercial consumption. Absurd in scale, its ridiculous nature implores the viewer to reflect on the way commercial fairy tales obsess over details that are inconsequential to the children who read them (beer, blood, weapons, etc.) and the ways that this limits imagination, as well as the harmless hyperbole and drama that accompanies oral histories.