Stories, magic and fairytales – Wendy Ramshaw’s Room of Dreams – review

Wendy Ramshaw's Room of Dreams
PHOTO by Carl Meeson

Inspired by fairytales and other magical stories, Wendy Ramshaw’s Room of Dreams is on at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until May next year.

There’s something about fairytales that means they seem to remain relevant. Even when the most magical thing you come across in your daily life is the 30 day ab-challenge on BuzzFeed (seriously, 30 days? A few sits up? Rock hard, flat stomach at the end of it? It’s got to be bloody magic), fairytales still have the power to bewitch us.

Who doesn’t want to believe in magic? And why shouldn’t we? If something amazing happens, then is it really less amazing if we know how it happens? Is the aurora borealis actually super boring now we know it’s all just magnetospheric plasma interacting with the upper atmosphere?

That’s not a great example, because it’s all cosmic rays and solar winds, which frankly will never not sound like magic. But you see what I mean. As a species, we seem to be in a rush to explain things, reduce them to their working parts and then file them away under stuff we know and don’t have to worry about anymore. Well how very dull. But while it is all very lovely to know things, that doesn’t mean we have to chuck the idea of magic and wonder away with it.

Fairytales and magical stories inspire Wendy Ramshaw’s work, from Bluebeard to Alice in Wonderland, to the perhaps true tale of dancer Marie Taglioni, who danced on a panther skin laid across the snow for a Russian highwayman. The romantic ideas, the magic within them, is contained within the beautiful pieces of jewellery Ramshaw has created across her 50-year career.

blue fabric wooden a frame modern art
Tracy Hickinbottom – Structure With Blue Ripstop, 2014

The Room of Dreams, widely regarded as her masterpiece, is exactly that, a room of beauty, stories, ideas and magic. The tales are given a truth by the solid, precious and enchanting objects she has crafted. So much art seems to be about the ugly, the banal, the grey and brown and beige. Personally, I like art that is exciting and beautiful and makes me feel something. A piece of blue fabric hanging on a wooden A-frame doesn’t do any of those things for me (this is a real thing – see).

I’m not saying it isn’t any of those things, I just don’t find that in it myself, and I doubt anyone who hadn’t studied art at uni would find it either. It also isn’t to say that beauty isn’t present in the boring and everyday things, but really, slinging some gym knicker fabric over a bit of wood is…well, award winning apparently.

Ramshaw’s work, in contrast, distils the magic contained within the stories she references, creating beautiful intricately detailed pieces of art. The exhibition is proof that art can be beautiful and still be worthy and challenging; it doesn’t have to be a burden on the eyes to enlighten the soul. Or something. Maybe I just like pretty things.

You can see more photos from the exhibition here.

Wendy Ramshaw’s Room of Dreams is on until 22 May 2016 at BMAG. Entry is free.

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