13 January 2012

The Hunting of Alice in Seven Fits

found at alicismo 

"A caça a Alice em 7 crises" 

publicado em português na revista LITERARTES

 "Publicação científica digital 
do grupo de pesquisa Produção literária e cultural 
para crianças e jovens da USP".

kaleidoscopic alice

© Adriana Peliano

translated by: Alex Watson

This text originally appeared as an article in:

Winter 2011
Volume II Issue 17
Number 87

The images were selected to this post.
Footnotes are missing.

Elena Kalis

1. River

Alice was raised on a ship of dreams, in a liquid looking-glass, following the currents of desire, imagination, and curiosity. She was born on a river, with its switchbacks and reflections, following and fighting the flow, in the geometry of laughter and strange paradoxes. We do not read a book; we dive into it. It surrounds us, constantly. Sitting on the bank, Alice would ask herself: and what is the use of a book without pictures and conversations? Alice has been perhaps the most illustrated book of all time. This shows that we continue to answer the question that Alice did not ask: and what is the use of a book with pictures and conversations?

A river child, Alice moves amongst mazes where one is lost and found in mysterious rhythms. The great paradox running through Alice’s adventures, according to Deleuze, is the loss of her own name, her infinite identity, her eternal becoming. When the caterpillar asks, Who are you? Alice does not know the answer. I know who I was . . . but I think I must have been changed several times since then. In her typically paradoxical manner, Alice says no, but also says yes: I know who I am; the transformation continues. Like Alice, when it seems we know who we are, we’re already someone else, and what we think we are, is what we once were. And the world that we know is changing every second. The girl, born into the River of Heraclitus, knows that being and nonbeing are in constant conversation, in an eternal cycle that is being created at all times.

When Alice says that she only knows who she was, she is saying that we are always in motion. And when she was drawn by John Tenniel in Victorian England, a tradition of Alices was born that would follow in this path. But Alice is no longer the Victorian Alice, instead she is a living kaleidoscope of all of the possibilities. How many artists were in fact driven by the need to overcome the stereotypical imagery of the girl and her amazing world, and by the quest for new adventures in expression? Instead of the question “Who is Alice?” there are now paths leading to that which Alice might come to be. . . .

Abelardo Morell

As the twentieth century progressed, the concept of illustration underwent profound transformations, in dialogue with the radical changes happening in the visual arts. Artists broke down the barriers between the outside world and the experiences of the mind, questioning the idea of a mimetic approach to illustration. The transformations in the universe of the arts and counterculture were re-creating Alice’s experiences in the mêlée of her dream world and wonderland. At the end of that century, Alice’s looking-glass shattered into a million pieces, spreading within the collective imagination new meta-Alices in a nonsensical, magical hourglass of alicinations.

The artists and illustrators were driven to discover or invent new relationships between text and pictures. The identity of the subject was subverted by the allure of the unknown and inexplicable. Rather than repeat, illustrators started to provoke and transgress. They questioned the classic idea that art should imitate or interpret an exterior reality. They also began to seek out subversion, paradox, and experimentation. The present time is filled with otherness and difference. Intertextual readings, metalanguage, multiple assemblies, nonlinear narratives. Abracadabra!

Suzy Lee

Since the beginning of the last century, each decade, through its different visions and styles, created its own Alices: art nouveau, art deco, surrealist, pop, psychedelic, futuristic, Gothic, naïve, ethnic, dark, steampunk, pop surrealist. Alice is, by turns, a sweet and ingenuous girl, a questioning feminist, a perverted child, a mad and bloody assassin, a drugged adult, a seeker of worlds beyond conscious thought, a delirious psychedelicist, or an armor-clad and shielded warrior, always multiple and mutating.

Alice moves beyond illustration into art, into movies, into fashion, into animation, into games, into comics, into the mix that now reigns and requires other comprehensions. And they all coexist in our alicinatory times of mixtures and countless seams and transitions through multiple networks. I do not know of another girl with so many faces, a traveler from an imaginary world, bringing with her the paradoxes that defy our senses and our common sense. The Alice books do not fit into any mold or explanation, instead spreading a worldwide net of creative possibilities.

We live in an image culture of collage and montage, of velocity and voraciousness: one image quickly devours another, transforming into another image, ready to be devoured, Norval Baitello explains. Images seduce and absorb us, but with the loss of our ability to create consistent connections and sensible relations, the devouring process is reversed: We go from indiscriminately devouring images to being indiscriminately devoured by them. We lose ourselves in labyrinthine deserts, and instead of always seeing the otherness in that which is the same, different Alices upon each reading, we find ourselves mired in the sad adventure of always seeing sameness in the other; we see nothing new in the thousands of Alices in circulation. Decipher me or I will devour you.

Querida Companhia

The story of Alice is already so well known that it becomes fragmented, repeated, displaced, deconstructed, gnawed upon by artists from everywhere, in every way. With her serpentine neck, Alice navigates among hybrid identities, blends, contrasts, oddities, merchandise, gato por lebre, and senselessness that everybody buys and believes without understanding why. She sets out for the new and looks back to reinvent herself all over again. This is Alice. Alice is all of them and none of them, and she opens herself up like the largest kaleidoscope ever seen. Good-bye, feet!

Alice strolls along the margins and between the lines; she crosses borders, a traveler through the unknown, but also through stock phrases, clichés, the commonplace, distortions and cheap simplifications that insist on impoverishing life and art. As we travel through Alice’s landscapes, we also travel through our own interior landscapes. New Alices learn that a path has not been set; rather, it opens as one goes forward, according to the poet Antonio Machado.

Sissi Venturin

Alice is an invitation to duplicity (for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people), multiplicity (she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them), becoming (I know who I was, but I think I must have been changed several times since then), and the loss of one’s own name (This must be the wood where things have no names. I wonder what’ll become of MY name when I go in?). We must create new forms of expression to give way to new Alices more sensitive to these subtle and free becomings.

Why continue living as Alice seated at the table set for tea, sullen and silent, as depicted by Tenniel? What we now seek is a way to remain time’s friends (as the Hatter suggests) and to free ourselves from the senseless and repetitive rituals in which the guests at the tea party find themselves trapped. It is an invitation to new Alices—nomadic, mutating Alices, multiple and simultaneous. Marcel Duchamp was “convinced that, like Alice in Wonderland, [tomorrow’s artists] will be led to pass through the looking-glass of the retina, to reach a more profound expression.”

Written for the 10-year-old Alice as a gift, the manuscript was 'lost' for years after it was bought by an American collector

2. Underground

In Carroll’s own illustrations from the Under Ground manuscript, Alice is spontaneous and spiritual, but also anguished and melancholic, close to the idealized image of the artist’s soul. She echoes romantic myths of the Pre-Raphaelites and their languid feminine figures, with oblique gazes and overflowing locks that would enchant the surrealists. She seems closer to a magical world than a logical one. At the same time, we glimpse hybrid and metamorphic creatures in the book that invoke the grotesque beings of Hieronymus Bosch. Are these drawings not among the precursors of the surrealist bestiaries, a mix of dream worlds and fabulous monsters?

But when the expanded work was published in London, it was illustrated by John Tenniel, a famous illustrator from the Victorian periodical Punch. A commonly held belief remains that rarely was an author as well served by an illustrator as was Lewis Carroll by John Tenniel, even though the work has been illustrated subsequently by thousands of artists throughout the world.

We still confuse the images and the text, which together seem to tell the same story. We often lose sight of whether the images are in fact faithful to the text or whether we create, from them, a new text. Is fidelity possible among images and texts of these Alices? Does Tenniel’s Alice remain the most perfect illustration of the work for the contemporary eye?

Who passively defies the Queen, with her arms crossed?

Who confronts a mad cat, in search of new directions, with her hands behind her back?

Polixeni Papapetrou

If I empathetically project myself onto Tenniel’s Alices, I feel like a tamed and contained Victorian girl who would not dirty her dress, would not throw herself into the well, would not unfold herself into a serpent to discover its dangers, would not think of eating bats. (These Alices, who are in the text, do not appear in Tenniel’s pictures.) Tenniel’s Alice doesn’t change, and awakens at the end of the book essentially the same. Really?

Alice is not transformed; Alice is transformation. How many adventures might she still experience, how many paths would she choose, how many Alices might still come into being? If life is a dream, Alice is unable to wake up; instead, she awakens. I am talking not only about what was written, but also about understanding that we ourselves are different with every reading, and that new Alices are born within us. Alice extends beyond the borders of the book and will live a multitude of adventures among constellations of dreams, thoughts, and emotions.

Tenniel’s Alice sits sulking at the table where tea is served, without free will. Similarly, all those who insist on reproducing the commonplace formulas remain trapped in a repetitive tea-time ritual. Many of today’s Alices unfold in new manners of expression and pictures, awakening in different arts, taking on a life of their own in a multitude of cultures. Considering these friends from modern times, what Alices are we capable of?

Through readings and re-readings, I have selected artists in seven groups, in which I find:

• Enigmatic Alices that destabilize the commonplace and suggest new readings: Alain Gauthier, Dušan Kállay, Jonathan Miller, Martin Barooshian, Nicole Claveloux, and Unsuk Chin.

• Metalinguistic Alices that reflect on language and expression and challenge the standards of representational art: Abelardo Morell, Anthony Browne, Catherine Anne Hiley, John Vernon Lord, Ralph Steadman, and Suzy Lee.

• Conceptual Alices that inhabit labyrinths and paradoxes: Randy Greif, Iassen Ghiuselev, Julia Gukova, Luiz Zerbini, Oleg Lipchenko, and Sergey Tyukanov.

• Alices that cross intertextual borders and visit characters from other stories: John Rae, Dorothy Furness, and Edward Bloomfield.

• Alices of metamorphic bodies challenging hybrid identities: Arlindo Daibert, Jean Claude Silbermann, Nicoletta Ceccoli, Tania Ianovskaia, Tanya Miller, and Vince Collins.

• Alices that journey through the world of dreams and the marvelous, proposing magical games: DeLoss McGraw, Elena Kalis, Kokusyoku Sumire, Maggie Taylor, Phoebe in Wonderland, and Alice-themed tea houses in Tokyo.

• Some Alices that journey through leftover nightmares and challenge the frontiers between the mind and the unconscious: American McGee, Anna Gaskell, Camille Rose Garcia, Alice in the Underworld (Dark Märchen Show), Trevor Brown, and Jan Švankmajer.

Alice is Alices is Alice.

3. Marvelous

Let us now journey through time with Alice herself as our guide on her adventures in being depicted by artists other than Tenniel.

Alice became lost in imaginary labyrinths until she arrived at the Gradiva art gallery, created by André Breton in1937. She saw the name Alice above the door, among other surrealist muses. She then read a passage from the gallery’s pamphlet:

From the book of children’s images to the book of poetic images.

Surrealism had transported the Victorian girl to the book of poetic images. That was when she saw a grin hovering in the air that said Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole or through the looking-glass encourage us to seek out other cracks leading to the marvelous.

Lewis Carroll left the doorway to our dreams open a crack. Alice went through it and found herself in a labyrinth of mirrors, an endless game, projections of herself created by surrealist artists. Surrealist muse, sphinx, femme enfant, Alice unfolds into multiple visions of a modern myth. She enters portals to the unknown, plumbing the depths of the unconscious, rites of passage; the revelation of a sibylline and archaic female, she becomes mixed with landscapes of a world in ruins, in the echoes and phantasms of the nightmares of war and of the dawning of a new world.

Carroll was broadly shared by the surrealists. He was read, and often invoked, by Paul Eluard, Gisele and Mario Prassinos, Guy Levis Mano, Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington, Henri Parisot, Frédéric Delanglade, Henri Toyen, René Magritte, and Salvador Dalì, among others. Max Ernst would illustrate some of his words, and confess that he was his second favorite writer after Lautréamont.

Continuing her journey, Alice entered a portal and was taken aback by a series of prints and illustrations by Salvador Dalì that depicted her adventures in Wonderland (Maecenas, 1969). She became a mysterious figure jumping rope through a landscape filled with Dalì’s obsessions, such as the melting clocks of the Persistence of Memory series. The clock became the Hatter’s table, set for tea, with time madly stopped at six in the afternoon. If the clocks reveal the mechanics of measuring linear time, the melting clocks refer to relative time and the universes of memory and pleasure.

Salvador Dali

Dalì simulated delirium, speculating on the propriety of the uninterrupted becoming of every object upon which he carried out his paranoid activity. Dalì’s counterfeit paranoia, the “paranoiac-critical method,” allowed him to reorder the world according to his inner obsessions. The limits between the real and the imagined became ambiguous. And his paintings began to represent a space in which everything that can be seen is potentially something else. Wonder, dreams, and the unconscious serve as the stages for metamorphoses, where the objects, symbols of irrational desires, are subjected to sudden mutations, an uninterrupted becoming. Clocks, mushrooms, caterpillars, butterflies, cards, shapes are constantly being diluted, blending and transforming. Wanderer in a dream world, Alice is stunned to discover that everything is in a constant creative flux.

The constant presence of Alice’s shadow in all of Dalì’s images refers to the Romantic dilemma of the double identity, suggesting a loss of bodily identity. In Dalì, Alice was a faceless silhouette, a mirror of herself in shadow and reflection. Surrealist Alices are bodies in metamorphosis and becoming, in a space of dreams and wonder. Dalì’s Alice gives way to the ghostly and kaleidoscopic presence of a multitude of double Alices, nameless in the contemporary imagination. Dalì’s Alice opens doors to new Alices, who ask new questions of the smile in the air—without Dalì.

4. Fabulous monsters

Alice went to visit the Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer, who illustrated the two Alice books in two rare and strange Japanese editions. His drawings went beyond the limits of conventional illustrations, creating unexpected relationships between pictures and conversations. They are collages that reinvent the world imagined by Lewis Carroll, proposing new mysteries and paradoxes along a surrealist journey.


Metamorphosis in surrealism became a violent and animalistic need, straining the limits of human nature. Life is a dream. The surrealist monsters showed Alice that subjectivity was not that safe and stable place that she had been made to believe. Alice found herself inserted into an imaginary jungle of sphinxes and chimeras, among collages with multiple identities that emerged from subterranean, strange, and archaic worlds. The drawings were mounted and dismounted, metamorphosing between images of biology and botany, dolls, Victorian illustrations, and sex symbols—double, multiple becomings.

In the Jabberwocky’s portmanteau words, there was a bestiary of beings such as toves and mome raths. Word collages were turned by Švankmajer into monster collages, hybrid and enigmatic beings. Alice’s body was unstable and mutating, a puzzle without any right answer. Alice is a portmanteau of impossibilities. When the caterpillar asks Alice, Who are you?, Švankmajer’s Alice is a drawing, a doll, a mushroom, lace, texture, pulse. The caterpillar and Alice meet with a vital élan, filled with the power of becoming.

Alice continued along and watched fragments of Švankmajer’s experimental animated film that revealed unsuspected dimensions of herself. Much of the animation was created through an explosive mixture of stop motion and a wide variety of surreal objects and hybrid, bizarre bodies. The characters might be played by machines, socks, clay, antique dolls and toys, meat, and even skeletons and the remains of bodies used in taxidermy experiments. The settings were ruins: decadent, subterranean landscapes, transformed into a somber and dissolute atmosphere.

Švankmajer adapted Carroll’s story according to a personal dialogue with the dream world and his own childhood: a world inhabited by desires, latent sexuality, fears, anxieties, mysteries, and obsessions. We are also confronted with our own childhood, our own Alices, fears, and shadows: inner alchemies. Each time we watch the film, we dream anew and Alice becomes a different one, among silences and whispers. I am reminded of the letter Paulo Mendes Campos gave to his daughter, Maria de Graça, when she turned fifteen and received Alice as a present: This book is crazy, Maria, the meaning is inside of you.

5. Merchandise

Alice looked at her reflection in the water of the river, and it transformed into the silly, naïve girl in a blue apron known by many, for many years, as the “real” Alice. Her story, recreated in a cartoon by Walt Disney’s dream factory, would become powerful, diluting the collective imagination, and stunting the metamorphoses of the girl who was constantly in transformation. Inspired by Tenniel’s original illustrations, this Alice would turn into the new ultimate icon, imposing for a long time a fixed and hegemonic public identity on the girl of many faces.

In the cartoon, Alice laments the fact that nonsense has been converted into moral lessons and good behavior. Like Walt Disney’s princesses, the cartoon Alice is a passive and defenseless young woman facing a crazy, senseless world. Wonderland showed insanity to her so that she might desire sanity even more. It showed misfits, so that she might want to fit in. The characters showed her how the system worked, so that she could learn to integrate herself into it, toe the line, and assume her role in society.

Alice realized that Disney’s cartoon simultaneously brought her story to the world and hid her critical and subversive potential. But at the same time, Disney’s movie became a countercultural and psychedelic icon in the 1960s as an ode to surrealism, insanity, and creativity. Alice was curious to see how each work remained open to multiple, contradictory, and oftentimes paradoxical readings.

Alice discovered that many years later, at the start of the twenty-first century, Disney would produce another film about her, this time directed by a dark and imaginative director named Tim Burton. In this film, after many years, Alice returns to “Underland” in order to defeat the terrible dragon, the Jabberwocky (sic), as had been foreseen in a prophecy. Everyone asks her: Are you the real Alice?

She decides that she is not. In this movie, the nonsense is contained within reductionist formulas of a hero’s journey. Alice is expected to become a warrior, to defeat and destroy the enemy in a Manichean world, to kill the dragon in order to awaken and assume her colonizing role in England’s world domination. Alice takes over her father’s project of conquering China.

The real me, Alice thought, is not a warrior, but an explorer. She does not kill the enemy, but learns through him. She does not want to take over the world, but instead comes to know herself. For her, Wonderland is not a battlefield, but a voyage, a game, a garden, and an adventure. That is why this movie is so unbearable, Alice thought. Because it shows the nightmare and the insanity that we now inhabit.

Once more, thanks to Tim Burton and Disney, with their considerable investment in promoting the film, Alice’s presence in the collective imagination was strengthened in an unprecedented manner. This is not only because of what the film shows, but because of what it stimulates. Even with the insistent repetition of symbols of consumption, possibilities for new becomings and friendships are reborn over time. Countless creative and existentialist possibilities might arise from among both those pleased and displeased with the film. The film offered them a chance to reread the book, to discover other images, other means of expression, other voyages; to produce, to create, to feel, to discover, and ultimately dialogue with and embark on an adventure, each in his or her own way, in this exciting world that still challenges us to take the plunge.

6. Arisu

The first time I read Alice, I imagined myself falling down with her until we reached the other side of the world, where people lived upside down. For a child in Brazil, this meant Japan. Many years later, I find that Japan is home to some of the most stimulating Alices alive today, in ordinary life in the city of Tokyo, sharing dreams, creating new worlds. Girls and boys who are children and adults at the same time dress as Victorian dolls, reinventing John Tenniel’s illustrations, among other passions and pursuits. With gestures, mannerisms, aprons, lace, socks, ties, and ruffles, Alice is becoming a new way of living the counterculture in alicinatory neighborhoods such as Harajuku, Shinjuku, and Akihabara, places where otherness and altered-ness are celebrated, embracing the wonder within the contemporary cartography, journeying through time and the invention of oneself.

The birth of the Gosu-rori (Gothic Lolita) culture coincided with the translation of Fushigi no kuni no arisu by Sumiko Yagawa, as Sean Somers showed me in his thought-provoking article Arisu in harajuku. She is my white rabbit, leading me to this surprising, and in large part misunderstood, reality. Yagawa stimulated the blooming of a counterculture that frees the imagination from repressive and repetitive social routines, opening the possibility of new friendships with time.

Wonderland (Fushigi) reveals an atmosphere of sensations, including charm and wonder, but also mystery, strangeness, and fear. Fushigi no kuni no arisu was translated in order to penetrate the existential needs of a generation, particularly the marginalized and outcast youth, who could, in this way, face malaise, depression, violence, and rejection through the wonder manifested in everyday life.

Fushigi is not an inducement of daydreams or escapism, Somers points out, but a creative therapy and an “alchemy of metamorphoses,” a subversion of the standards for women, breaking down barriers between ugly and beautiful, sweet and perverse, violent and delicate. Lolitas seek to prolong their childhood and question dominant culture in a childish manner and a dollish pose, in a game of being and nonbeing that crosses the line between art and life. Do Hello Kitties eat bats? Do bats eat Hello Kitties?

Yet, it is important to keep in mind that the practice of wandering metamorphosis is now part of the logic of contemporary fashion. The creation and expression of oneself as an exercise in creativity has now become a marketing gimmick. We live in a culture of “differences” that combines alleged creativity with a desire to be unique, but only according to static formulas of existence. As Cristiane Mesquita points out: “Clothing serves as a means of expression in an existential landscape. But fashion also offers the market ephemeral and easily substituted identities.” How can one be distinguished from the other? Alice is our challenge.

7. Fringe

Yayoi Kusama

I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland, stated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who since the 1950s has alicinated psychedelic worlds. In paintings, collages, poems, daring acts, sculptures, fashions, weirdness, and surprising installations, she shares patterns, repetitions, obsessions, and visions of the infinite.

Kusama was hospitalized for years for mental disorders, and her works reflect her challenging perception of reality, where the boundaries between the body, the self, and the environment mix and mingle in proliferations of repetitive dots that pulse and vibrate with the cosmos. We’re all mad here . . . otherwise you wouldn’t have come, said the Cheshire Cat. Kusama plays with mirrors and kaleidoscopes to produce bright patterns with stunning effects, incorporating an almost hallucinatory vision of reality, in an experience that is at once sensory and spiritual.

 Yayoi Kusama

In the 1960s, the artist went to New York, where she carried out a series of political “happenings,” under the philosophy “Love forever,” promoting a reaction against the Vietnam War and all authoritarian, repressive, and conservative powers. These body paintings and orgiastic choreographies were performed before the sculpture of Alice in Central Park, in 1968. For Kusama, Alice was the grandmother of the hippies, and she became Alice, a year after Grace Slick sang “White Rabbit” with the Jefferson Airplane.

Kusama arrived in Central Park as the Hatter, with her nude dancers, inviting everyone to drink the tea that was being served under the magic mushroom. Red, green, and yellow dots could represent the earth, the sun, or the moon, according to Kusama. She painted little circles on the bodies of those present, so that people would divest themselves of their outlines to return “to the nature of the universe.” From a criticism of the repressive powers symbolized by the social routines of Alice’s teatime, Kusama has moved towards friendship with time, crossing boundaries between bodies and cosmic rhythms, diluting the boundaries of the self.

Dialoguing with the ideas of Rosane Preciosa about the existence, Alice is able to disturb, to intrigue, to destabilize. She puts us in contact with uncertainty and the untamed. Breaking with hegemonic models of existence, the new Alices must invent universes by paying attention to their own inner landscapes. Alices give themselves over to existence and say: I am a question.

And if Alice were not in the dress, but in its folds? If she were not in the blue material, but in the shadow and the light of a multicolor prism? If she were not in the hair, but in the rumors of its movement? Not in the apron, but in the traces of an intimate encounter? Not in the shoes, but in the steps into the unknown and the uncertainty about which path to take? Not in the pictures, but in the conversations? Not in the conversations, but in the question marks? Not in the words, but in the pauses that breathe between them? Not in the behavior, but in the beating of the heart? Not in a face, but in a dream? Not in a being, but in the becoming?


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found at alicismo 

form the movie  Dreamchild

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“Always in search of curious objects, broken toys, bits of things and traces of stories, Adriana Peliano stitches together desires, monsters and fairy tales. Her collages and metamorphic assemblages are magical and multiple inventories, where logic is reinvented with new meanings and narratives, creating language games and dream labyrinths. Everything is transformed to tell new stories that dislocate our way of seeing, inviting the marvellous to visit our world.” “Sempre em busca de objetos curiosos, restos de brinquedos, cacos de mundos e rastros de estórias, Adriana Peliano costura desejos, monstros e contos de fadas. Suas colagens, metamofoses e assemblagens despertam inventários mágicos e múltiplos, onde a lógica do cotidiano é reinventada em novos sentidos e narrativas, criando jogos de linguagem e labirintos de sonhos. Tudo se transforma para contar novas estórias, abrindo portas para o maravilhoso.”