Alice in Wonderland exhibition: The interactive display brings characters like The Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat and The White Rabbit to life at the ArtScience Museum

By Andrew Leci 23 April, 2019
Wonderland Exhibition - Marina Bay Sands

A new exhibition in Singapore takes Alice off the page and through our eyes into our hearts and minds

“Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – The White Queen, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, still struggling with her shawl.

As any parent will tell you, reading bedtime stories to kids can be a chore. Mostly a pleasure, I’m sure, but sometimes tedious. This is probably why Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been such a triumph in the 154 years since it was written. Small children love it. So do big children – or ‘adults’, if you prefer.

The same can be said of a new exhibition in Singapore. Entitled Wonderland, it is a quite sumptuous visual feast of all things Alice and her adventures in a realm that has captured the imaginations of readers and viewers since 1865. It’s interactive, experiential and visually stunning, with a level of engagement that will be directly proportionate to the visitor’s sense of… you probably guessed it… curiosity.

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”

The book itself has become massively influential in popular culture, and has inspired many in the literary world, particularly in the fantasy genre. In terms of representation on screen (big and small) there have been 40 or so film and television iterations, with many more to come, no doubt. With development in film being an essential subplot in this curation, charting Alice’s (and the moving image’s) journey through this exhibition is at once delightful and fascinating.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road can take you there.”

I don’t like the phrase ‘fun for all the family’ – it reeks of blandness, and suggests being neither one thing nor the other when it comes to appealing to both children and adults alike. Wonderland, however, talks the talk and walks the walk, encouraging us to do the same through the magical, sometimes surreal world Lewis Carroll created for his young heroine.

“Where should I go?” – Alice. “That depends on where you want to end up.” – The Cheshire Cat. 

The exhibition journey for visitors takes many a twist and turn – enhanced by the newly-created, “enchanted”– ‘Lost Map of Wonderland’. Not to give too much away, the map is worth referring to for hidden gems that otherwise might not be seen. Through 10 sections, loosely corresponding to chapters in the original book, as well as the sequel Through the Looking Glass, we follow Alice on her trials (at least one) and tribulations.

Everyone’s there. The tardy White Rabbit, the sleepy Dormouse, the mischievous Cheshire Cat, the hookah-toting Caterpillar and, of course, the Mad Hatter, who invites you to take a seat at his tea party for four minutes of utter multimedia magic.

“We’re all mad here.”

When first published, to relatively little acclaim, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was illustrated by artist Sir John Tenniel. I always thought this was a bit disappointing. I didn’t want to be shown what things were supposed to look like or how someone else thought they should appear – even if was the author himself after consultation with the artist. One of the joys of reading is that you get to use your own imagination and create your own pictures in your own mind.

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”

Interestingly, this is what the exhibition manages to achieve by spotlighting so many artists’ and filmmakers’ interpretations of Alice herself, alongside the characters she meets. The brainchild of ACMI (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image), with multimedia works by digital creative studios Sandpit, Grumpy Sailor and Mosster Studio, the collaboration was a raging success when it opened in Australia, and now ‘on tour’, looks all set to take the rest of the world by storm – or a massive crow, if you’re familiar with the books. It’s Singapore’s singular honour to be the first port of call, and kudos to the ArtScience Museum and Marina Bay Sands for putting the exhibition together in the inimitable style to which we have become accustomed.

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” 

Lewis Carroll’s Alice is an inquisitive child – aged “seven and a half exactly” – and her experiences in Wonderland symbolise her growing up in relation to those around her. Some adult behaviour would, no doubt, have seemed as bizarre and incomprehensible to her as animals who could talk, and flamingos being used as croquet mallets. It’s up to us ‘grownups’ to preserve a sense of wonder and encourage enquiring minds. This is something Carroll’s books have always done, and that Wonderland achieves in spades… and hearts.

For young and old; wide-eyed and jaded; optimistic and cynical, Wonderland really is, forgive me, fun for all the family.

“No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.”