The Alice Diaries 2012 | Circa on Jellicoe, Johannesburg
It seems that I have always observed myself observing. Much as an outsider would carefully watch the behaviour of another I note changes in my thought patterns and ideas. This act of watching finds concrete form in diaries – A3 size pages in which I draw, scribble and muse. The pages document the progress of not so much linear time as the stuttering backwards and forwards motion of my ideas. This way I fill diary pages with sketches, annotations and exhortations to myself. In 2007 I framed 100 of these pages and exhibited them as The 100 Page Diary – a moveable document, since as each page gets sold so the next gets added on. A number of these framed pages are exhibited at Circa as The Alice Diaries. But in a sense the exhibition as a whole can be read in the same way as the diary, only this time it is writ large in the form of sculptures, paintings and an installation of multiple ceramic forms.
The central theme of the Alice project is motivated by an anxious awareness of an environmental melt down. I explore (and in this I am not alone), the interface between humans and animals. This border between human and other sentient beings is what I call the in-between space. This is a place where being human ceases to be primary, where a language function with no certainty and thought fails to provide a safety net of reason.
Re-visiting my childhood texts of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass I found an inversion of the traditional relationship between animal and humankind. In Wonderland it is the animals that have the knowledge. Alice, as the human, is the one who lacks the key of understanding. The animals seem to understand how the world works. Thus the White Rabbit, much like a modern corporate executive, is forever rushing off somewhere lamenting his lateness. “Oh my paws and whiskers,” he cries as he rushes past the bewildered Alice. His task is urgent but it is never made clear to Alice or to us her sympathetic co-journeyers what his urgent business is. Likewise the Cheshire Cat appears and disappears sometimes leaving only his enigmatic smile behind. He knows, but just what he knows remains unclear. Like Derrida’s cat, before whom [sic] the philosopher stood naked and ashamed, the Cheshire Cat has the power to unsettle certainty. His god-like presence and his ironic smile confuse more than it elucidates. In the upside down, rabbit-hole world, all sense of who Alice is falls away. She is not even sure of her size. “Who are you?” asks the haughty caterpillar and a little later the pigeon, who thinks she just might be a serpent, asks, “What are you?” To neither question has Alice the answer. The caterpillar’s question is significant. Who is Alice and by extrapolation who are we? Are we right to presume our position of superiority in relation to the animals? Do we really deserve our place on top of the Cartesian pile?
Yet - The Alice Diaries is not a didactic animal rights manifesto, although this may well be its subtext. Neither is it intended as an illustration of Carroll’s tales. Like the scribblings on my diary pages the exhibition is a way of making sense of an increasingly confusing and seemingly dangerous world. Life can be dream or nightmare. 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. (Wilma Cruise, 2012)
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