Vasilisa and her doll: You will never be alone
This artwork is about a child, sitting with her doll, lost in her own rapture, her own thoughts, her own existence, much like anyone else can be consumed by their focus – a dancer, a mathematician, a scientist, an artist. She is relaxed, no one else exists, her guard is down.
Her doll is a metaphor for her intuition – her constant companion and she cradles and appreciates and listens to it.
I got a comment the other day on this work. It seemed that the idea of a child sitting with her legs open was disconcerting or suggestive of sexuality. I could see her point, especially in this day and age of children being exploited.
But I think that an easy out, an easy criticism. The legs spread may be the first thing you notice, and if it is, then maybe there is something about your own sexuality that needs to be explored. That’s not a bad thing, anytime you get an insight in to that great unknown, that great blackness called the subconscious, I say take it and run!
If an artwork makes you uncomfortable, that is the clue, it is a visual clue that you have business to take care of in your own psyche, it means that you have reached some borders and have the opportunity to explore them further or to cross them.
If you don’t know the story of Vasilisa and her doll, here it is:
A merchant had, by his first wife, a single daughter, who was known as Vasilisa (“Βασίλισσα”, meaning Queen in Greek) the Beautiful. When she was eight years old, her mother died. On her deathbed, she gave Vasilisa a tiny wooden doll with instructions to give it a little to eat and a little to drink if she were in need, and then it would help her. As soon as her mother died, Vasilisa gave it a little to drink and a little to eat, and it comforted her.
After a time, her father remarried to a woman with two daughters. Her stepmother was very cruel to her, but with the help of the doll, Vasilisa was able to perform all the tasks imposed on her. When young men came wooing, the stepmother rejected them all because it was not proper for the younger to marry before the older, and none of the suitors wished to marry Vasilisa’s stepsisters.
One day the merchant had to embark on a journey. His wife sold the house and moved them all to a gloomy hut by the forest. One day she gave each of the girls a task and put out all the fires except a single candle. Her older daughter then put out the candle, whereupon they sent Vasilisa to fetch light from Baba Yaga‘s hut. The doll advised her to go, and she went. While she was walking, a mysterious man rode by her in the hours before dawn, dressed in white, riding a white horse whose equipment was all white; then a similar rider in red. She came to a house that stood on chicken legs and was walled by a fence made of human bones. A black rider, like the white and red riders, rode past her, and night fell, whereupon the eye sockets of the skulls became luminous. Vasilisa was too frightened to run away, and so Baba Yaga found her when she arrived in her mortar.
Baba Yaga said that she must perform tasks to earn the fire, or be killed. For the first task, Vasilisa was to clean the house and yard, cook supper, and pick out black grains and wild peas from a quarter measure of wheat. Baba Yaga left, and Vasilisa cooked, while the doll did everything else. At dawn, the white rider passed; at or before noon, the red. As the black rider rode past, Baba Yaga returned and could complain of nothing. She bade three pairs of disembodied hands seize the grain to grind it, and set Vasilisa the same tasks for the next day, with the addition of cleaning poppy seeds that had been mixed with dirt. Again, the doll did everything but cook the meal. Baba Yaga set the three pairs of hands to press the oil from the poppy seeds.
Vasilisa asked about the riders’ identities and was told that the white one was Day, the red one the Sun, and the black one Night. Other details are not explained, on the grounds that Baba Yaga preferred to keep them secret. In return, Baba Yaga inquired into the cause of Vasilisa’s success. On hearing the answer “by my mother’s blessing”, Baba Yaga sends Vasilisa home with a skull-lantern to provide light for her step-family, only to find that, since sending her out on her task, no candles or fire will light in their home. Even lamps and candles brought in from outside snuff out the second they are carried over the threshold. The light burns Vasilisa’s stepmother and stepsisters to ashes, and Vasilisa buries the skull as per its instructions so no person would ever be harmed by it.
Later, Vasilisa becomes an assistant to a maker of cloth in Russia’s capital city, where she becomes so skilled at her work that the czar himself notices her skill; he later marries Vasilisa.