The tails in fairy tales flicker as reminders that the translation of folk stories into aristocratic myths is incomplete. Folklore holdovers, animals point past the freighted, readymade meanings of overly familiar stories to a receding oppositional space. To the woods, in other words, which is where we encounter the nine artists included in the group exhibition Fairy Tails.

“The exhibition plays on both the allure and familiarity of these tales as a means of reconsidering the role of animals in storytelling,” writes curator Anne Koval in her catalogue essay.

One tale in particular appears to preside: Little Red Riding Hood. Sylvia Ptak’s Little Red Riding Hood: A Retelling is the most obvious allusion to the woods-bound granddaughter. The only immediately legible words in Ptak’s three found fairy tale books are the story’s title, foregrounding the process of rewriting and leaving open what exactly is told. Ptak generates these enchanting, illegible scripts by manipulating the gauze that comprises the books’ pages into threaded lines coloured black and red.

Amalie Atkins’ film Requiem for Wind and Water presents an eerily open landscape stalked by twin sisters and a witchy figure, her hat like a church spire. The twins share a single red dress until they cut themselves out of it, out of that red ornamented plot and into something stranger.

Diana Thorneycroft’s series of three digital photographs are Grimm and disturbing. In Herd-girl (gardener and memory keeper) (22×30”), a figure that looks like a cross between Alice and a deer stares out curiously amidst snowy evergreens and horse leg graves. A wolf circles in the shadows. Does she notice him? Herd-girl (dysfunctional fireman) (24×30”) is more unsettling, as the same figure watches a house burn, detached hose in hand.

From left to right: Meryl McMaster, On the Edge of This Immensity, 2019; Anna Torma, Permanent Danger 2, 2019; Janice Wright Cheney, The Lucivee in Captivity, 2020

The two most arresting works in the exhibition are outside the Little Red Riding Hood frame. Anna Torma’s Permanent Danger 2 (83×59”) looks like a post-punk album cover—an Edenic tapestry, with snake tails winding their way as an elaborate root system through dragons, flowers, Where the Wild Things Are beasts, knights with softball shields, and naked humans.

In Meryl McMaster’s self-portrait On The Edge of This Immensity (40×60”), the artist carries a boat full of black birds on her right shoulder. Her fingerless gloves grip the sides, as she gazes off out of the right of the photograph. She is looking back. The photograph was taken on Manitoulin Island where her great-grandmother was born.

“These birds joining me as my companions are guides,” McMaster said in her artist’s talk for Fairy Tails. “I’m literally retracing steps that my ancestors took and my thoughts in this moment turn to thinking about great migrations across land and water of people in my family and people who I don’t know. These paths had been walked many times in the past and will be walked many times again.”