Russian Dolls At Glasgow Lighthouse Exhibition

By Fern Ross | 13 January 2006
Photo of a gallery with red walls and some sets of Russian nesting dolls on display.

Now a symbol of Russian culture, Matryoshki only appeared around 1900. Courtesy The Lighthouse.

Fern Ross went to the Lighthouse Gallery to find out what Jamie Oliver has to do with Russian dolls.

“Jamie Oliver’s gifted, but he should use more potatoes…”

It’s not every day Mr Oliver pops up in the art world, but Stockholm-based design group Defyra, who are among the artists and designers commissioned to create a whole new take on Russian Matryoshki (nesting dolls) for The Lighthouse's winter show, obviously thought the cheeky cockney would fit right in.

Running until February 5 2006, the quirky exhibition brings together established designers and artists to look at the influence of narrative in these iconic nesting dolls.

Exhibitions Manager Lucy McEachan explained the idea behind this unique show: “Every winter we think it’s a good idea to do a fun exhibition in this space, and we were really interested in the idea of storytelling and how that would work.

“We got a mixture of designers and artists to create their own Russian dolls using the theme of the fairytale. Their work shows how even ordinary, everyday objects are designed and contain meaning.”

A chinese lantern starting to take shape

Fairy tales are a common theme for the dolls. Courtesy The Lighthouse.

A symbol of Russian culture, Matryoshki first appeared as a toy in 1900. Their vivid colours and intricate detailing depict animals and people, often illustrating popular folk and fairy tales.

One of the most prevalent themes in Matryoshki is the narrative, unfolding layer by layer as each doll is revealed inside the other.

Popular stories found on the Matryoshki include The Snow Queen, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, while flowers, animals, political and religious figures and winter scenes are recurring painted motifs.

The Lighthouse invited five artists and designers to create their own Matryoshka dolls using the theme of the fairy tale as inspiration.

Glasgow-based artist Dave Sherry has created a set of dolls, each of which depicts a famous comedian. The line up stars, descending in order of size: Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe, Ronnie Corbett, Vic Reeves and Bob Hope. Sherry then relates the meeting and conversation of this unusual set of bed-fellows in an associated ‘fairy story.’

Yellow card with slits cut through the middle

Kate Davis' custardy coward dolls. Courtesy The Lighthouse.

Artist Kate Davis, also Glasgow-based, has taken a unique approach to the commission, eschewing decoration in favour of deconstructed sculpture.

Her reinterpretation of the Matryoshka is inspired not by a traditional fairytale, but by the central character of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Rashkolnikov, and his struggle to locate his place within his own social hierarchy.

Painting her set of dolls a uniform ‘cowardly’ yellow, Davis’ has individually die-cut each doll to create a fractured appearance, attempting to upset the sense of hierarchy that the Matryoshka typically embodies.

Donna Leishman of interactive design group 6am Hoover took the story of Rosebud, the sleeping beauty who lies trapped by a spell asleep in an impenetrable forest, as her starting point.

Re-imagining the tale, Leishman has delicately painted ornate black fleurons and burrs on deep red dolls. The viewer is then invited to become the prince in the tale, peeling back the various doll layers to reveal the modern-day Rosebud.

Scissors cutting yellow card

Courtesy The Lighthouse.

Meanwhile, design group Defyra’s set of five dolls took its inspiration from a story by the Swedish writer Astrid Lungren and Jamie Oliver. Each doll represents an ingredient for a herb salt to be used for potatoes and fish.

Johanna Van Daalen of Manchester-based design team Electric Wig had an unusual take on a functional object for her interpretation of the dolls, stacking their blue-painted shells on top of one another to form a lamp.

“For this project I wanted to create a functional object using the dolls as a material/method of construction. For me fairy tales are about reading at bedtime – what better than a bedside lamp?” said Johanna.

Lucy added: “Electric Wig showed with us in 2005, and they just take really low-fi stuff and make it really functional and fun.”

“The exhibition has really captured people’s imaginations,” she went on. “I think the Russian doll is just a really iconic object, and one which many people have in their homes or used to play with as children, so this exhibition is really appealing to them.”

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