Once upon a time, fairy tales weren’t meant just for children. An oral tradition of fables and folklore, they were passed down through many generations constituting a vital communal experience. They continue to resonate, by virtue of their archetypal imagery, despite the near extinction of the oral storytelling tradition, replaced in the 21st century by a universal mass communication network and a global culture largely steeped in twenty-four-hour public entertainment. Yet after hundreds of years, modern and contemporary writers such as Anne Sexton and Angela Carter mine the ancient tales, creating a dialogue between personal and collective memory.
It is this sort of dialogue that Elizabeth Kenneday and Susan Malmstrom strive to achieve between viewers and their series, Women of the Forest. Familiar metaphors provide a narrative that readers can filter through their own cumulative life experiences. The series evolved through the artists’ shared interest in fairy tales, feminism, and the disappearing wilderness. Fantasy elements woven throughout the images allow them to explore unsettling content in a compelling fashion. Informing the theme is the fact that both of them have chosen to live in rugged environments largely surrounded by forestland that can prove harsh at times — Northern California’s eastern Sierra Nevada and rural Nova Scotia — and that both were born and spent their formative years in urban/suburban Southern California (perhaps not coincidentally, home base to the epicenters of modern manufactured fantasy: Hollywood and Disneyland).
The idea of passing a photographic image back and forth between themselves via email, building up pictures layer by layer, arose from the desire to collaborate on a series in spite of the thousands of miles that separate them. There are no limits as to what each artist can add to her layer before returning it, and an image is considered a finished work of art by consensus. The works are meant to appear both realistic and dreamlike, creating a sense of distortion and prompting narratives within individual viewers’ own self-identity.
Biography of Elizabeth Kenneday-Corathers
Elizabeth Kenneday-Corathers, an Emerita Professor of Art at the California State University in Long Beach, holds a Master of Fine Arts in Painting and Photography and a Doctor of Philosophy in Art Educational Theory from The Claremont Graduate University. Her activities in international education led to a Traditional Fulbright Scholar award at the Iceland University of Education in 2004, and her activities in environmental education through art have led to numerous lectures at international conferences in Finland, Iceland, Portugal, New York, and other U.S. cities. Her works have been exhibited internationally and widely collected, and she has been an Artist-in-Residence at Sequoia National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. She has been awarded grants from organizations such as the Visual Arts Center of Alaska, the Save-the-Redwoods League, and the Arts Council of Long Beach. She received the California Art Education Association’s Outstanding Higher Education Visual Art Educator Award in 2006, and is currently living in June Lake where her work is focused on land issues and women’s issues.