Wilma Cruise Will you, won’t you, will you join the dance? 2013 | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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Will you, won’t you, will you join the dance? 2013 | National Festival of Arts 2013, Grahamstown

An exhibition of new works by Wilma Cruise

Will you, won’t you, will you join the dance? is the fourth exhibition in The Alice Sequence. The sequence opened in July 2011 with The Animals in Alice at The Wembley Square branch of iArt Gallery (now Brundyn + Gonsalves) in Cape Town. The second exhibition, Alice and the Animals was held at the University of the North West in October of the same year and in July 2012 the third exhibition in the sequence, The Alice Diaries, opened at Circa on Jellico in Johannesburg.

In this series of exhibitions I interrogate the curious interface between Alice in Wonderland and the animals that inhabit her dream world. Using ceramic sculpture, painting, drawings and text, I explore the nature of animal/human communication within the fecund metaphor provided by Lewis Carroll’s tales of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Will you, won’t you, will you join the dance? derives its impetus from the nursery rhyme character of Humpty Dumpty, a fanciful creature, half man, half egg who finds himself in Alice’s daydream in Through the Looking Glass. I have re-interpreted this bad tempered anthropomorphic egg by creating a clay character roughly modelled in a bulbous round shape.

In the exhibition he is depicted perched on a stool, legs crossed, or he is upside down, or dancing, his spherical form precariously balanced on his underdeveloped legs. As an indicator of his vanity, he is shod in a pair of bright red ballet slippers. I have called him H.D. Arnoldus, an allusion to the metaphorical imp that was said to sit on my shoulder as a little girl. He also pays a passing nod to the tokoloshe, which in South African folklore is a malevolently mischievous creature.

In Through the Looking Glass Humpty Dumpty has a long conversation with Alice about language. But she is on the losing end of the argument. She has no riposte to his form of irrational logic.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.
“When I use a word… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “Whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all” (Carroll: 184).

Alice seems quite capable of deciphering the natural laws of Wonderland that operate more or less predictably once the principle is grasped: If you eat one side of the mushroom you grow bigger and the other side you shrink. But what Alice cannot master, and there is no possibility of mastering, is the illogicality of the creatures of Wonderland exemplified so graphically by Humpty Dumpty’s pronouncements from his perch on the wall. Humpty Dumpty veers widely from insisting on the literal meaning of words to claiming they can mean anything he wants them to. The irony is that his haughty assertion does contain a seed of truth. Words do only mean what the master says they mean at any one time as Derrida and Foucault demonstrated nearly a century after Lewis Carroll wrote.

In Will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?, a phrase gleaned from the Lobster Quadrille, the invitation to dance is an encouragement to join the game of Alice deconstructed. You, the viewer, are invited to unravel the conundrums and the absurdities contained within the tales and re-interpreted in the artworks of The Alice Sequence. You are encouraged to make the connection between thinking, speaking humankind, as exemplified by Alice, and the non-speaking other – even if it is, as in this case, a pompous anthropomorphic egg!

Carroll, L. 1982. The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll. London: Chancellor Press.
Dunn, G.A. and McDonald, B. 2010. “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast." Alice in Wonderland in Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser. Ed. Richard Brian Davis.  Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.   

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