In Canadian-Ukranian artist Taras Polataiko’s exhibition Sleeping Beauty at the National Art Museum of Ukraine in Kiev, which continues until September 9, the artist positions himself as a postmodern fairytale mythmaker, a Brothers Grimm of the internet Age. The exhibition itself is simple, based on Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairytale of the same name — but the real-life results of this performance are both beautiful and shocking.
Anyone who is 18-years-old, single and does not have mouth herpes is invited to kiss the Sleeping Beauty who lies asleep on her white satin bed. There are five Sleeping Beauties total; each takes turns, sleeping on the raised white satin bed for two hours at a time. Eric Satie’s Gnossienes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 play on a loop in the gallery. Participants sign a legally binding waiver which states that they will wed the Sleeping Beauty if she awakens to their kiss. This can only happen, of course, if the Sleeping Beauty intuitively feels that her prince or princess has arrived. The “prince” may be male or female – so long as they Sleeping Beauty awakens to that person, the sex does not matter. As self-appointed fairytale director and guard, Polataiko both keeps watch over the Beauty, and documents her as she sleeps.
On September 5, the first Sleeping Beauty in Polataiko’s exhibition awoke to a kiss from another woman. Both of them were surprised. Polataiko shot photos of them laughing and looking at each other. Then he posted the images to his Facebook profile, where he has been live-blogging the entire event. Now the Sleeping Beauty must wed her “prince,” thus queering the historically heteronormative fairtytale. Gay marriage is not allowed in the Ukraine, however, so these two women will have to wed in a European country that does allow for same-sex marriage.
Earlier in the week, it appeared as if one of the female participants kissed the Sleeping Beauty, but in fact that’s not what happened. “The woman didn’t kiss me,” Sleeping Beauty Liza Rai says. “She just danced around and then only leaned to me and that’s it. That was one of the most unpleasant moments for me even though I didn’t know who it was.”
Polataiko’s performance suggests that fate and destiny do exist, yet ultimately it is intuition that drives the connection – or the awakening by a kiss. Perhaps that is why the most recent Sleeping Beauty opened her eyes to this the kiss, while Sleeping Beauty Liza Rai did not.
“The experience was really eminent; I never tried anything like that before,” says Rai. “It really felt like what they say about blind people, who can hear, smell, and feel more acutely than those who can also see. I have to confess that it was quite hard to trust the feelings and follow the impulse.”
Today the Sleeping Beauty fairytale lives on. Every participant in this work of art — from the people who clicked and read the story online, to those following on Facebook and the beTV livestream, to the museum visitors and the actual Sleeping Beauties themselves — rendered this fairytale real, if only temporarily. It lives because we continue to watch it.
Even though a Sleeping Beauty awoke this week, the exhibition is not over. This particular Beauty’s fairytale-like sleep, however, has come to a halt. Polataiko prepares for the next Sleeping Beauty, who takes her place on the white satin bed. The fairytale begins again, only closing when the exhibition comes to an end on September 9.
Polataiko’s fairytale-gone-viral calls into question the idea of love and the fact that it remains mystery.