The photo book “But a mermaid has no tears” is loosely based on the fairy tale “The little mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen, from which also the title of the book originates. It deals with questions of identity finding and the search for meaning.
Andersen’s “The little mermaid” was written from a very religious perspective, with a focus on the meaning of the soul in a Christian context. But, like all fairy tales, it is in the tradition of a centuries-old oral transmission, in which it was subject to constant changes and new creations by the (mostly female) narrator. The fairy tale is thus not a static narrative form but allows through its fluid character a constant reinvention. Analogous to this re-telling, “But a mermaid has no tears” picks up on old stories and folklore and places them in a new context, as Angela Carter describes it, “putting new wine in old bottles”.
In this artwork, the little mermaid does not search for a soul in the Christian sense but creates her own identity. Through playing as a transitional space as described by Winnicott she invents herself in the childlike game of dressing up and roleplaying.
The Mermaid is not a static role here but takes on different characters and genders to reflect on herself and understand herself from different perspectives. It’s opening up new possibilities and narratives for the female character, where she gains agency and authorship about her destiny. The urge of the little mermaid to possess a soul in the version by Andersen thus becomes here representative of the human pursuit of identity and purpose, with the simultaneous existential fear of finally dissolving only in seafoam.