Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Alice in Wonderland Exhibition, Tate Liverpool

Alice in Wonderland Exhibition 14/11/2011

The Alice in Wonderland exhibition currently showing at the Tate gallery in Liverpool opened on 4th November and is due to run until 29th January 2012 and is described by the Tate as the ‘first comprehensive exploration of the stories’ influence on the visual arts. His stories are rich in logical, philosophical and linguistic puzzles – reflecting their author’s fascination with language and with questions of meaning’.

I arrived with certain expectations from this particular exhibition with it featuring works based on one of the world’s most well loved childhood stories, a 10% student discount certainly impressed me! (and that was on top of the already reduced price for concessions!)

It started out on the ground floor then led up to the 4th (the elevator saved my little tootsies J), behind the curtain however my excitement soon became frustration. To the right were some photographs printed onto canvas by Annelies Strba and to the left a neon light typography installation by Jason Rhoades created in 2004, words illuminated included ‘Brazilian caterpillar’, ‘beef curtain, ‘trout basket’ and ‘serpent socket’. The layout here was rather sparse, completely not reflective of the zaney, out-there story it was meant to be representing. The canvases hung on bare walls although the brightness of the neon light installation did brighten the atmosphere it was only briefly.

Up on the fourth floor there was much more information to sift through, a tiny breakthrough at least. Although as I walked around I did begin to notice that the information was more on Lewis Carol, formally know as Charles L Dodgson and his life, than Alice in Wonderland itself. There were various photographs taken by Carol during his lifetime (he was a keen photographer) ‘the Victorians prized childhood as a symbol of innocence, and children were often the subjects of his photographs’ and some of the layouts he planned for his story, ‘he planned the book in meticulous detail, even down to the placement of the illustrations, for which he made his own sketches.’ The placement of my text in comparison is usually an after thought, so I can make some personal links to some of the work featured and learn some lessons from it.

‘Copyright on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland expired and it entered the public realm in 1907 with at least fourteen new illustrated editions on sale by the autumn’. Illustrations by Tove Jansson, Maria L Kirk and Adrienne Segur all caught my attention. Sir John Tenniel’s pencil on paper illustrations fascinated me due to their tiny scale and intricate details captured in such a small space, his sense of space and proportion is exceptional. Also, I could learn a lesson or two from Andrei Martynov who illustrated said story with a very limited palette, my palettes have been way too inclusive of recent months featuring a collection of bright colours and more muted shades which don’t always work in unison. Charles Francis Annesley Voysey 1920 created a furnishing fabric showing that Alice in Wonderland was adaptable to many different media; other ranges included ceramics and children’s toy lines.

Later in the exhibition Adrian Piper’s LSD paintings feature as does a porn referenced wall of type, I understand the inclusion of drug related artwork – Alice in Wonderland does hint at drug use when she drinks potions to make her grow and shrink and during the 1960’s drug culture was all the rage. But the inclusion of pornographic related images doesn’t make any logical sense to me, after all Alice in Wonderland is supposed to be a children’s story book, is it not? The neon light installation downstairs also references this porn theme with the words that are illuminated. The exhibition is clearly aimed at an adult audience and not children (though there are warnings where pornographic references are made) due to the formal layout but I am still struggling to find the connection.

Salvador Dali featured towards the end of the display with the inclusion of his illustrations and a short animation on which he collaborated with Walt Disney titled Destino, 1946. Dali later goes on to explain that the girl in the animation is Alice from the Alice in Wonderland story where she is concerned and totally consumed by time. He injects some colour and life into the exhibition space, something that the three of us were desperately searching for, and although we found it, it was only in a very small dose. Dali is playful with the subject matter but still in a surrealist manner.

The layout of the exhibition was disappointing as the subject matter holds such potential for a fun, tactile and engaging environment. I imagined more installations, pointers to the Mad Hatter’s tea party and a dark tunnel to reference the rabbit hole. It was not reflective of the story it is meant to be representing. Instead what we discovered was a very formal, very quiet on the verge of very boring exhibition that could be found in any other gallery, it was standard but nothing more.

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