"It's a party in which the child within can play again and run with the imagination."
-- Ayala Leyser
I am going to a Mad Hatter Tea Party in Chicago. I'll be sipping tea and talking utter nonsense with the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Dormouse, Alice and all the other fantastical characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland. I'll be surrounded by sculptures, 3D photography, paintings and prints - the wacky, whimsical and multi-media creations of wonderful participating artists, including JoJo Baby, Hans Ulrich, Marianna Buchwald, Scott Becker, Lynn Chalupa, Andrew DelaRosa, Jeff Hughart, Peter Jones, Ayala Leyser and Rainbow Kitty. It's all happening in Chicago, Alice fans, and it begins September 14th at 6pm at the Out of Line Art Gallery. Perhaps I'll tell them about the story behind this story.
On November 26, 1864, Lewis Carroll gave my relative, Alice Pleasance Liddell, a book he had written for her. He called the book Alice's Adventures Underground after considering titles such as Alice's Golden House, Alice Among the Elves, Alice Among the Goblins, and Alice's Doings In Wonderland. Carroll had spent over two years writing and illustrating the book for Alice. It consisted of ninety-two pages covered with his print-like writing as well as thirty-seven of his own pen and ink drawings. The book given to Alice Liddell would change her life forever. The book would also change Carroll's life, but it might never have happened if a young girl had not inspired the previously unpublished children's book author to write the greatest children's book of all time. Did you know that there are over 20,000 books, films, operas, plays and video games based on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There? It is estimated that over 8 billion people have read or seen presentations of the "Alice" books. Lewis Carroll is behind only the Bible and Shakespeare in the number of quotations from the "Alice" books that appear in published discourse. In addition to the new adaptations of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll's and Liddell's lives continue to inspire numerous new books, works of art, and film projects. I think about this amazing legacy every time I'm invited to a tea party. I'm curious to explore the latest wonders created by world famous artists inspired by "a book given." Ayala Leyser, artist, curator and owner of the Out of Line Gallery in Chicago, agreed to chat with me about them.
"Visitors can get into the story, a Wonderland experience, as they step through the door, greeted by the Red Queen, handed a Carroll's quote card."
-- Ayala Leyser
What did Lewis Carroll's Alice books mean to you when you were growing up?
Growing up in a different part of the world (Israel), the book swept me into an "exotic" sphere. Wonderland bewitched me, as it was full of surprises and magic. Yet there was something scary about Alice's journey to an unfamiliar land. I admired this girl (my age then) for her curiosity and adventurous spirit. I wanted to be like her. I wondered how she overcame her fears while making her way through the rabbit hole and interacting with some wonderful odd characters so naturally, all the while being herself. Perhaps Alice played a part in the way I grew up. Always curious and intrigued by unfamiliar cultures and people, I studied social anthropology, later psychology, traveled extensively in different parts of the world and became a psychotherapist and an artist later on in life.
"Carroll's books are some of the most fascinating multi-dimensional storybooks one can find. His boundless imagination, aesthetic, picturesque appeal, an implicit invitation for one's own interpretation." --Ayala Leyser
Why do you believe Carroll's books continue to inspire artists the world over?
Carroll's books are some of the most fascinating multi-dimensional storybooks one can find. His boundless imagination, aesthetic, picturesque appeal, an implicit invitation for one's own interpretation, the magic, defying an attachment to familiarity or to the rules of logic, the endless paths one can take from somewhere to nowhere, the allegories pertaining to humanity alluding to ambiguity, rather than to a binary order...ironically coming from a math professor!
What can visitors to The Mad Hatter Tea Party exhibit expect to discover when they come?
Visitors can get into the story, a Wonderland experience, as they step through the door, greeted by the Red Queen, handed a Carroll's quote card. They are asked to use it at least once, perhaps reading it aloud while addressing someone else. They will walk through art objects spread throughout the gallery, and when they make it through to the end, they will reach the bar counter manned by the March Hare.
"As it always has been, imagination is the key to human progress." -- Ayala Leyser
What does this exhibit mean to you? What are your personal favorites in the exhibit and why?
This exhibit is more of a participatory show; it's a party in which the child within can play again and run with the imagination. I was thrilled by the passion and playfulness of all the participating artists who had fun while we curated the space. The closest thing to my heart is my sculptural tea party. It is a project of love that took me over a year to finish. My interpretation of the tea party was more benevolent than some other versions. My depiction of the various characters was as all different and unfamiliar to each other, yet displaying no fear, just having a good time. It's my vision for humanity: no insiders/outsiders, only one pluralistic humanity. Something in me refuses to end this project, since I find myself continuously moving and altering the scene...
2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll's books. How do you imagine yourself as an Alice fan celebrating this global event?
I would have another participatory Wonderland costume party, with readings, plays, Alice movies, talks about the rich layers in Carroll's writings, their historical meanings and their relevance today. Trying to do both: relive Wonderland once more, and also set it as a dream for a future of no fear of the unfamiliar, the ambiguous and the boundless. As it always has been, imagination is the key to human progress.
For more information on The Mad Hatter Tea Party in Chicago: http://www.outoflineartstudio.com/?p=269
C.M. Rubin and Ayala Leyser
(All Photos are courtesy of Ayala Leyser)
C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, "The Global Search for Education" and "How Will We Read?" She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.