Curiouser

Curiouser

 

On the 25th September 2010, I performed ‘Curiouser’, as part of ‘The Stranger at the Party’ event, which took place in the Old Market district of Bristol. ‘The Stranger at the Party’ was curated by artist Cara Lockley.

Curiouser

Located on Old Market Street, within the edgeland location of Bristol’s Old Market suburb, and costumed in a dress designed to reference popular depictions of ‘Alice’ from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ stories, someone unfamiliar is here to dwell rather than pass-through.

Aware of Old Market’s reversal of commodity exchange, from a once vibrant outdoor market setting to the buying and selling of goods and services inside shops with tinted-glass fronts disguising their contents, Curiouser focuses attention onto the street as a site of public exchange; of community and mythology, exploring what playful and performative exchanges can and do occur in this place.

Alice in Chester

Part One:

Part Two:

Alice in Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf seemed a good place within London’s vast landscape, to use for play.

Not only does this place have great cultural status as a business and economic hub, it also contains beautifully constructed and symmetrical walkways, marble blocks, steps, paving and ornamental garden areas.

Surprisingly (after my experiences in Plymouth), I received very little attention from the number of security guards who witnessed my activity; they looked upon my movement with no concern whatsoever. For these individuals, I cannot have been perceived as a security or safety risk and posed no threat, which in comparison makes the security guards in Plymouth seem all the more tyrannical.

Why Alice?

The relevance of referring to Alice, is partly and firstly over a concern with my own perception of Alice as an icon who contributes to a collective cultural representation of femininity. She also represents the archetypal Victorian child, as a character who may have been based upon, or at least inspired by, a child well-known to Carroll – Alice Liddell. There are many academic and populist articles that have sought to address the meaning of ‘Alice in Wonderland’; my own interest, following a reading of Will Brooker’s thorough analysis of a range of the above-mentioned articles, is in the idea, suggested by Will Self that both ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Carroll’s sequel, ‘Through the Looking Glass’, present

“the juxtaposition of the quotidian and the fantastic; the transposition of irreconciable elements; the distortian of scale and a means of renouncing the sensible in favour of the intelligible; and most importantly, abrupt transmogrification conceived of as integral to the human condition. […] The word “curious” appears so frequently in Carroll’s text that it becomes a kind of tocsin awakening us from our reverie. But it isn’t the strangeness of Alice’s Wonderland that it reminds us of – it’s the bizarre incomprehensibility of our own.” (Self 2001 as cited in Brooker 2004: 98)

When performing my play in public, out of costume, the movement appears as something ‘fantastic’, without any frame of reference. The application of a reference point, in this case through my simulation of the Alice character, suggests that Alice’s wonderland is manifested through an alternative use of public spaces, rather than being an entirely different or remote world that can be ‘looked in’ upon, as is the case for audiences of Carroll’s novel or it’s subsequent adaptations into film. This process aims to bring to attention the possibility of multiple, alternative uses for public places, and to encourage a questioning of an individuals’ own occupation and appropriations of a site, whether they are someone seeing my performance accidentally, in a public site, or someone intentionally viewing my documentation.

In his book, Brooker acknowledges the integral role of John Tenniel – indeed, any illustrator of the Alice story – to cultural readings and collective understanding of Carroll’s text. The illustrator achieves, as Brooker describes, a “stage-setting, costuming and casting” that can be “replaced with someone else’s vision” (Brooker 2004: 101). My own example of Alice, produced through the body of a woman, rather than a girl, asserts the importance of the notion of play as something that is not fixed and confined to childhood, it also represents the potential for the transmogrification of self, through the simple act of play.

References

Brooker, Will. (2004). Alice’s Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture. London and New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

Self, Will. (2001). “Introduction.” in L. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by M. Peake. London: Bloomsbury 2001.

Alice in Plymouth

Despite the fact that Drake Circus (Plymouth’s main shopping mall) contains a public right of way, security were very unhappy with my being there. What became interesting was that the movement I was performing was so subtle it raised interesting questions about what could potentially be ‘normal’ behaviour or abnormal/unlawful activity.

After some cyclical conversation with the head of security, I left the building and began to play outside in the high street. A few minutes later I was approached by two police officers who had been notified by security at Drake Circus. They took down my name and address, quizzed me on my intentions and cross-referenced my details on the Police National Computer.

Finally, with the permission of the police, I moved to another part of the city, for a last attempt at play, in a very rainy Plymouth.

Alice in Rugby

On 14th March 2009, I visited my home town, Rugby, Warwickshire as Alice.

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