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SELCS Café Culture opening event: 'What are Fairy Tales?'

21 May 2013


The evening of Wednesday 8th May saw the first event of the SELCS public engagement initiative, Café Culture. The event, 'What are Fairy Tales?', took place as part of the UCL Festival of the Arts. 38 people attended the event and they were a mixture of members of the public, and UCL-affiliated (students and staff). 

The evening was kicked off by local artist Hannah Battershell, a former UCL student, who asked the audience to think about what they thought was reminiscent of the fairy tale in her work. Whilst not explicitly addressing their narrative elements, Hannah's work has often been compared to fairy tales and as she had kindly distributed her beautiful pieces around the room, audience members were able to respond to them over the course of the evening. We then heard from Mererid Puw Davies (German), who told us how she became interested in fairy tales, and challenged common conceptions of them as 'moral' or 'timeless', exploring these ideas in relation to the classic story of Bluebeard, a tale which has been subject to many retellings, including, as Mererid proposed, The Silence of the Lambs. The final speaker was Tom Lundskaer-Nielsen (Scandinavian Studies) who gave us an insight into the work of Hans Christian Andersen and how he differed from previous collectors of fairy tales such as the Grimms and Perrault by writing original tales. Tom also spoke about how Andersen wrote for children for example through the use of images that would appeal to children in tales such as 'The Little Mermaid' or through onomatopoeia in 'The Tinderbox'. There was an emphasis in the talks and in the discussion that followed not just on the written word, but also on the visual image and its relationship with fairy tales.

The audience were very engaged and keen to enter the debate throughout, and the talks were followed by a short Q & A, after which the speakers and organisers mingled with the audience at their individual tables to continue the discussion over a glass of wine. This was a lovely opportunity for two-way dialogue between audience and speakers, giving the opportunity for audience members to both ask questions and offer views in a relaxed, informal way. People were obviously enjoying themselves; some audience members stayed until 10pm chatting to us, and had to be politely asked to leave the venue! 

Cafe Culture 2

The event was expertly chaired by Tim Mathews (French). Georgia Panteli (Italian, PhD student) helped coordinate it, and Elizabeth Dearnley (French, Postdoctoral Fellow) helped with the smooth running of the evening. Café Culture is run by Debbie Martin (Spanish and Latin American Studies). If you are interested in taking part in Café Culture in 2013-14, please contact Debbie: deborah.martin@ucl.ac.uk.

You can see Hannah's work at: www.hannahbattershell.com, along with details of her forthcoming exhibition at the Curwen Gallery (June 2013).

Listen to Mererid and Tom talking about their work on fairy tales.