ACMI’s Alice in Wonderland

187 years (and 1 day) ago, Lewis Caroll, real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (thanks Wikipedia) was born. To commemorate his birthday, I’m posting some photos from an exhibition I went to based on his most well known literary piece, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Last year, I had the exciting opportunity to visit ACMI’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition in Melbourne.

I admit that I have never fully read through Alice in Wonderland (I’ve read through a picture book if that counts?) nor have I seen the animated Disney movie. Now before you Alice in Wonderland fans declare that it’s off with my head – I admit that I mainly love this tale due to the aesthetic and intriguing culture that has been built around it. Earlier in the month, I even helped plan a proposal with Alice elements in it!

It’s no secret that a multitude of TV shows, movies, games, music videos – even eateries! – have been inspired by this whacky story. The world of Alice in Wonderland has been interpreted and twisted in so many different ways, it’s built up this rich history and interesting subculture – which is what this ACMI exhibition is all about!

Our Wonderland tickets, in front of the portal into the exhibition!

Before we even enter the exhibition, I can tell that a lot of effort has been put into it. And I mean a lot.

A quick selfie with Alice herself before we embark into Wonderland

We first enter a dark, embellished room where a lady hands us our exhibition guides (“Lost Maps of Wonderland”). They are large, decorated pamphlets which allow us to interact with the displays by matching the Alice stickers on the pamphlet to certain areas inside the exhibition. They also feature various facts. But the best thing? There are 4 variants of the map, which are based off different characters, each one totally unique to each figure. A huge effort was made into these maps, which you can read about here.

There are two ways to enter the exhibition – through a normal door, or a small door that we can crawl through.

We are led into a corridor with a mirror at one end and doors on each side. It is the ‘Hallway of Doors”. The doors lead to different areas – some of them are rooms with articles, one of them leads to the next part of the exhibition, and the other leads to a room behind the mirror, which is actually a one-sided mirror where you can spy on everyone else!

The next area leads into a room decorated with blue curtains surrounding a flat circular display. It is “The Pool of Tears”, which features magic lantern slides of Alice in Wonderland.

The “Looking Glass House” was our next stop, then more rooms filled with paraphernalia from different movies and interpretations of Alice in Wonderland. I can’t specifically remember which room was which, so apologies for any inaccuracies.

We entered “The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill” next, which had some very interesting displays. I found this section to contain some of the creepier parts of Alice in Wonderland like these below figures.

There were also some cute photo ops!

“Advice from a Caterpillar” was a brightly coloured room with some very interesting words on the wall:

I feel as though this part focused more on the mainstream Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, with colourful posters and concept sketches. There was also a screen with a clip playing over and over again. From the name of the room, can you guess which scene it was?

Our next stop was “A Mad Tea Party”, which was an amazing installation. We entered a plain room and sat at a table, with cutlery and crockery set up as if we were about to have an actual tea party. Then the show started – a beautiful projection of colours, imagery and words whizzing around the walls and onto the table, making it seem as though we were actually in the forest attending a tea party with food on plates and ants crawling about. Then, a montage of various Alice in Wonderland incarnations was shown on the crockery. It was spectacular.

“The Queen’s Croquet Ground” was our next area. Here, costume pieces and props from the Alice in Wonderland movies were displayed. This room had an emphasis on The Queen of Hearts.

It also included a place for crafting – a sectioned area filled with tables and a large screen taking up most of one wall. The back of the brochure, a large empty playing card where animations could be projected on (read above about interacting with displays), was now a blank canvas for us to create our own playing card! We sat at a table, cutting out different stickers provided to us by the staff.

That’s not where it ended though – once our sticker collage was complete, we were able to scan it into a machine. A picture of our faces were also taken so that we could become digital playing card minions in the Queen’s Croquet Ground!

The last area of the exhibition did not disappoint. A seat in the centre, surrounded by screens, this part was aptly named “Who Stole the Tarts?”. A montage of Alices appeared on the screen. Then various incarnations of the Red Queen flashed across each section. Alice was on trial. And who was Alice?

Those bold words on the wall uttered by the caterpillar himself prior came to mind: “Who are you?” – the answer? We are all Alice, just trying to make sense of this crazy world.

But the adventure doesn’t have to end there! On our pamphlets are a link to the post-exhibition website and a unique code. The website itself is beautifully crafted with even more facts and tidbits – and you can even say hello to your customized playing card again!

Overall, the ACME Alice in Wonderland exhibition was absolutely stunning and is by far, the best I have ever seen. Taking each visitor on a visual, sensory journey through the history of this absurd tale, walking through the exhibition made me feel like I was Alice in Wonderland. If it ever comes to Sydney, I wouldn’t hesitate to go again!

— Deborah, back in reality

P.s. for more snaps and video clips of the exhibition, check out my Instagram highlight here.

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