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Wilma Cruise takes audience down the rabbit hole in The Alice Diaries

by Marilyn de Freitas posted on July 28, 2012.

The Alice Diaries by Wilma Cruise opened at Circa on Jellicoe in Johannesburg on 24 July. Cruise's audience were taken on a trip down the rabbit hole into a darker rendering of life-size ceramic and bronze figures, prints and drawings surrounding the fairytale novel theme of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. The exhibition catalogues Cruise's experience and interpretation of the space between animals and humans. The Alice Diaries explores the existential crisis which people experience in a subliminal and hidden manner. The audience is left wondering the meaning of the works similar to Alice who is curious about the animals in the "wonderland".

Cruise born 1945 in Johannesburg is a South African sculptor and visual artist working mainly with fired clay on a life-size scale consisting of animals and figures. The Alice Diaries employs eerie sculptures of rabbits and pigs providing continuous questioning of reality. Cruise uses the figures as the vehicle for the exploration of meaning. The sculptures provides the metaphorical link between unconscious realities and the conscious known world.

In 2010, Cruise exhibited 'The Animals in Alice' at iArt Gallery, Cape Town and 'Alice and the Animals' at the University of the North West in Potchefstroom which exhibited works around the Alice theme. Cruise observes the character of Alice, a human, who is naive and ignorant of the ways of the "wonderland" in which she finds herself whereas the animals are knowledgeable and seem to have unusual agendas. Alice is confronted with an arcane kind of existential crisis as the various creatures she encounters question her existence. 'The Alice Diaries' provided a rather darker look at the existential questioning that Alice and essentially the audience experiences.

The main installation entitled "The Cradle" consists of hundreds of ceramic baby sculptures spread across the floor. Each baby sculpture is different from the other, enticing the viewer to take a step closer and observe the strange shapes of their heads or the writhing positions of their bodies. Cruise's work entitled "The Alice Diaries" (Mixed media on paper) comprises of pages of a diary put together in a storyboard manner. The audience gets a glimpse at how the artist put her ideas together. These works show drawings, writings and musings in which Cruise catalogues her observations and ideas, turning them over on paper as one would in one's head when trying to get to the end of a rather complicated problem. Cruise's interest in the inadequacy of phrases and sentences to communicate, words serve as markers of desires struggling to find articulation. The notebooks, a character feature seen throughout her works, include incomplete sentences, words crossed out and replaced, and sketches of possible artworks and layout.

In 'The Alice Diaries', Cruise explores her own ideas and observations as a way of "...making sense of an increasingly confusing and seemingly dangerous world." The sculptures do not dictate a message but seem to be observing from a distance. The dark stares of "The Child - Pookie" or "The Caucus - Rabbit" and knowing glances of "The Mother" create an atmosphere that both intrigues and unsettles the viewer. They appear both innocent and wise, both repellent and captivating. The exhibition runs until 25 August.

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