Taking Wonderland Apart
‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is just one of those books. It’s intriguing, magical, and whimsical but also deep, complex and it works on many levels. As a child, I never ‘got it’, as an adult I’ve come back to it time and again to delve deeper into its enigma.
So, when I was invited to exhibit in ‘Beyond the Page’, an exhibition of work by artists who are inspired by books, I jumped at the chance to make a new installation piece based on Lewis Carrol’s books about Alice.
I have an 1872 second edition of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’‘ sat on my desk in the studio biding its time. It’s been like that for over a year now. I can’t quite bring myself to break it up and work with it as raw material, like I have in the past with other books. This one will have to wait. Eventually we’ll start that creative dance together. For now though, I’ve chosen to use other routes into Wonderland.
Instead I took ‘The Collected Works of Lewis Carroll’ which contains a paper-thin modern printing of ‘Alice’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’. I began to disassemble it in the gallery space.
Bridport Arts Centre has a wonderful gallery upstairs in a room often flooded with light from its huge Methodist chapel windows. Its thick wooden floors – almost 200 years old now – creak with age, adding a feeling, to me at least, of a silent witness being always in the room with you. It’s a reassuring space.
I selected a corner of the room near the windows – somewhere to build a sort of den or hiding space. Somewhere one might be able to contemplate Alice and her Wonderland slightly away from the rest of the exhibition pieces.
And then I started work – firstly, laying out the whole two books, pages separated out, onto long sheets of tracing paper. Painting these thin pages together with liquid glue fundamentally changed the nature of my raw materials. As I separated the translucent sheets back into separate book pages again this became clear. The pages now came alive – they were almost dancing – as crinkly, crispy, unique objects in their own right.
Putting Humpty Together Again
But when you’re making a den, you need to assemble it somehow. One by one, I stitched the ends of each page to the next. One page from ‘Wonderland’, the next from ‘Looking Glass’, weaving long strips of story ‘fabric’ ready to create the structure. I drove a series of hooks high up along the wall and attached some high-grade (orange?!) fishing wire. Then I threaded the ‘fabric’ from the wall to the floor, fanning out the pages. Once inside this den, you’ll simply be surrounded by the words and pictures of Alice’s world.
Curiouser and Curiouser? Make of it what you will. I left a cushion to sit on and a notebook to jot visitors thoughts, responses, doodles and inspirations in… let’s see.
‘Beyond the Page’ exhibition is at Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset DT6 3NR until 14th October 2016.
There are also some special Alice events on Thursday 13th October – check with Bridport Arts Centre for details.