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Lewis Carroll’s Fantastical World Brought to Life

<lman Teaching Museum at the Weitz Center for Creativity unveiled a new art exhibit inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic novel, Alice in Wonderland, on April 5th. Three artists from Minnesota and one from South Africa contributed pieces that illustrate unique interpretations of the world that exists beyond the looking glass.

Artists John Largaespada, Alexa Horochowski, Wilma Cruise, and Kate Casanova explored and expanded upon the subjects in Carroll’s famous story through their photography, computer technology, painting, drawing, and “magic” mushrooms.  Largaespada and Casanova were present at the exhibit’s opening and spoke about their respective styles, as well as the specific pieces that are currently on display.

Largaespada, who combines live models, photographs, and computer imaging to bring texts to life with a touch of the bizarre, said that his work “involves digitally manipulated and composited photography in an effort to push photography toward a more pure image-making medium reminiscent of painting.” As for his two works on display in the museum, which are large images of different versions of Alice, Largaespada said that he “endeavored to make work that is both accessible and experimental.”  

“The subject, enjoying general familiarity, gives me a bit of artistic license to interpret freely. I can go a little crazy and most people will still understand what I’m talking about,” he added.

Casanova also embraced creative freedom, as her two works in different mediums pushed the envelope of the imagery and subject matter in Carroll’s text. Instead of offering an altered take on well-known scenes, Casanova investigated the larger questions and themes in Alice in Wonderland and used these as her inspiration. She considers her two works, a video of ladybugs interacting with a house of cards and one of living mushrooms growing out of a chair, to be “investigations into landscape.”

“In traditional depictions,” said Casanova, “the viewer observes the natural world from a distant, detached perspective. By contrast, in these works, creatures colonize artifacts of human culture; in doing so, the ladybugs in House of Cards and mushrooms in Mushroom Chair create sticky metaphors for our relationship to the non-human world.”

She added, “Fantasy offers a powerful means to address the fascinations and anxieties of being a human animal, who like all creatures, is ultimately not in control. Like these artworks, Alice in Wonderland presents a fantastic world that upends the traditional dichotomy of human versus nature in the struggle to figure out exactly who-what-why we are.”

Cruise, a South African visual artist and sculptor, also explored the relationship between humans and animals. Her contributions, entitled Alice Sequence, are composed of two sets of images that feature sketches, annotations, and exhortations to herself. Through Alice Sequence, Cruise investigates the “inversion of the traditional relationship between animal and humankind” that she noticed while re-reading the book. “In Wonderland,” she said, “it is the animals that have the knowledge. Alice, as the human, is the one who lacks the key of understanding.”

Cruise said, “Like the scribblings on my diary pages, the exhibition is a way of making sense of an increasingly confusing and seemingly dangerous world. Our task is to try and make sense of our place in it as we tumble through time, together with our co-travellers – the animals whose planet we share. ”

The fourth artist, Horochowski, not only expanded upon the ideas in Carroll’s work, but also incorporated elements from other famous fiction into her pieces. In one work, Alice meets Frankenstein’s monster at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and in the other, her alter ego samples magic mushrooms.

“The subjects in my paintings,” she said, “hover between laughter and horror, one side of the looking glass and its opposite: childhood and adulthood, life and death.” Horochowski’s paintings “hint at classical myths, medieval folktales, and biblical narratives,” while the characters she portrays “perform roles that are eternal, presenting cautionary tales about our own psychological complexities and the potential of our imagination.”

These works can be viewed in the Perlman Teaching Museum through April 28th. The artwork will be complemented by a music, dance, and theater performance of Alice in Wonderland that will take place in the Weitz Center at 7:30PM on April 11th through 13th. The Carleton Players, in collaboration with Flying Foot Forum, will put on the performance.

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