Nadja Ellinger is a visual artist interested in the oral tale as a way to explore new narratives offside the path. She was born in 1993 in a small medieval village in the middle of Germany. Spending most time in the forest and in books she fell in love with fairy tales, folklore and storytelling. After completing her bachelor’s degree in photography at the University of Applied Science in Munich, she studied for her MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art in London from 2018 to 2020.
Nadja’s work was exhibited and published in the UK, US, Italy, Germany, and France. She worked on comissions by clients such as Vogue USA and NR Magazine and held her first solo show with her project “But a Mermaid has not Tears” in Munich, Germany. In 2020 she was one of the finalists for Camera Work in Ravenna, Italy, and exhibited at Voies-Off in Arles, the Ginnel Foto Festival, and the ‘Other Identity’ Biennal in Genova, among others.
JUN 2020 Camera Work / Off
Palazzo Rasponi 2, Moved to online exhibition, Ravenna, Italy. Group
MAY 2020 “Lost in Isolation”
Online exhibition, Void Collective. Group
MAY 2020 “Ginnel 20 – At your place”
Communal exhibition around the globe. Group
FEB 2020 “Losing ground”
Photographic project space, Royal College of Art, London, UK. Group
MÄR 2019 “Other identity”
Biennale, Genova, Italy. Group
OKT 2018 “The devil you don’t”
Aeon gallery. Richmond, United States. Group
JUL 2018 “neuneuneu”
Hochschule. Munich, Germany. Group
JUL 2018 “The Family of No Man”
Cosmos Books, Voies-Off Arles, Arles, France. Group
MÄR 2018 “10 im Quadrat reloaded”
Farbenladen. Munich, Germany. Group
MAR 2017 “But a mermaid has no tears”
Provisorium. Munich, Germany. Solo
Vogue US (upcoming)
Curated by girls
Intertitles anthology (upcoming)
You are not Alone Issue 1
Header Photo: Bruederchen - Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Rag. Size site-specific (proposed size: 120 x 180 cm)
The fairy tale’s strength lies in its ability to retell itself, thus constantly adapting to new languages, environments, and people. The fact that it wasn’t written down, fixed by a literary pin, enabled it to evolve freely. As American fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes states: “There is no such thing as the fairy tale; however, there are hundreds of thousands of fairy tales.” This multitude enables communication across language and country borders. It does not only talk, it listens, and it invites to participate.
It was not until the 19th century when the fairy tale was written down, mainly by male authors with the aim to educate young children in moral and well-behaving. To conform with the values of the society back then it was rewritten, often losing core ideas of the oral tradition and altering character traits of the protagonists. The main changes were de-sexualisation (Brothers Grimm), belittling of women (Perrault) and in general censorship of violence in the story. This direction was also picked up later by many artists of pop culture, famously also in the movies of Walt Disney.
This led to an overrepresentation of a certain narration: The Disney princesses are well known for being the typical damsel in distress, waiting for the male saviour. This does not do justice to the multifarious fairy tale, that offers so many diverse roles. Deeply inspired by Angela Carter’s approach of “putting new wine into old bottles” I create fairy tales with more pathways for the female figure than either being domesticated or sexualised.
To realise this I adapt the transitional space. Donald W. Winnicott has shaped this concept as “part of the life of a human being, a part that we cannot ignore, [...] an intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute. It is an area that is not challenged because no claim is made on its behalf except that it shall exist as a resting-place for the individual engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet interrelated”.
I place my figures in this in-between space and let them play and explore. The viewfinder of my camera becomes a stage, and the borders between reality and fantasy become blurred. What was inside turns outside, and an idea is embodied and born into the world. Then the camera devours it, captures the outside world and places it inside its own body, the camera body. And this process repeats when I place the images into the outside world. They become part of the physical realm. But then the gaze of the viewer captures them again, they are projected first onto the retina, and into the mind. It’s a circle of being inside and outside, connecting both worlds - the physical as well as the psychological. Like the fairy tale its telling and retelling, acting and reenacting. The path into the wood looks like a tour through the forest but is a journey to the inside.
The Lure — Digital print on velvet. Size site-specific (proposed size: 120 x 180 cm)
Translating a physical experience into the virtual space is in my eyes neither possible nor sensible. Referencing a non-existent physical space only adds a layer of translation and increases the feeling of alienation for the viewer.
Instead, I want to emphasise the strength of the digital realm. During my research I discovered a lot of similarities between the concept of the fairy tale and the internet: Both work with an in-between state that is neither physical reality nor fantasy, but a possibility to embody abstract ideas. In both there is no clear border between user and producer: every participant can switch between these positions quickly and spontaneously, who was just listening is the telling their story in the next minute. I believe this is a feature of the democratic aspect of the internet: The ability to shape it on a communal basis.
To highlight these ideas I created in collaboration with a friend of mine, Robert Mondry, a virtual space that invites the viewer to not only look at the images but to actively participate in the creation of the story: They can rearrange and resize the images. This happens in real-time, so every action one participant takes will appear directly on the screens of every visitor. This creates a visual dialogue between the viewers and reiterates the communicational aspect of the fairy tale.
In my own hands — Digital print on cotton. Size site-specific (proposed size: 125 x 175 cm)
A nice bouquet of flower — Digital print on blended fabric. Size site-specific (proposed size: 125 x 175 cm)
Lure — Digital print on velvet. Size site-specific (proposed size: 120 x 180 cm)
Demeter — Digital print on chiffon. Size site-specific (proposed size: 120 x 180 cm)
The Path — Velvet. Size site-specific (proposed size: 135 x 400 cm)
Creeper — Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Rag. Size site-specific (proposed size: 125 x 175 cm)
Bud — Velvet. Size site-specific (proposed size: 45 x 45 cm)
Untitled (Puddle) — Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Rag. Size site-specific (proposed size: 120 x 180 cm)
Henkersmaedel — Satin. Size site-specific (proposed size: 125 x 175 cm)
The watcher — Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Rag. Size site-specific (proposed size: 125 x 175 cm)
Untitled (Ice) — Cotton. Size site-specific (proposed size: 125 x 175 cm)
Waschweib — Cotton. Size site-specific (proposed size: 120 x 180 cm)
In one of the earliest spoken versions of the fairytale, which later inspired Charles Perrault to write his ‘Petit Chaperon Rouge’, the wolf asks the unnamed heroine: “Which path will you take?”, to which she responds by choosing the path of pins, the careless and fleeting one - as opposed to the path of needles, the irreversible way of the wolf.
This decision of the pins reflect two interesting aspects: On a personal level, by refusing to follow the prescribed path, the heroine decides to stay a child and favours the state innumerable possibilities. Exploring what lies beyond, she leads us deep into the forest.
On an abstract level, this metaphor of pins and needles relates to how fairy tales are being treated: Like a butterfly collector, Perrault kills the living, ever-evolving oral tale, in order to present it to the reader in a pose he artificially forced upon it: Not only does he appropriate the story, but he coerces the heroine into the corset of his own ideologies. Compared to the early variants of the narrative, where the heroine tricks the wolf and escapes with artfulness, together with the help of washerwomen and the forces of nature, Perrault reduces her to a naive girl guilty of her own violation.
The fairy tale questions authorship: Every form of retelling or reenactment embeds former versions of it, repeats it, alters it, so it will never be original - no authorship can be claimed over it. The fairy tale gives birth to itself.
I own the story - but just for a short time, in the fleeting moments while retelling it. Then I lose control. My voice melts into the chorus of everyone who told this story before. But what is a choir without its single voices?
Therefore I work with my friends, my family, my own body. Like children, we create our fantasy world together that enables us to talk about the ineffable. It is a dreamlike state, where logic does not apply anymore and time works differently. The preconscious mind draws connections, develops a narrative I wasn’t aware of and finds analogies between this universe and reality, stitching these worlds together.
The tale develops, slowly, growing with each iteration, like a living creature.
Thanks to my performers and friends Mariell, Jana and Nadine.