Curiouser and Curiouser

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,Chapter 6)

I have always found the Cheshire cat’s reasoning perfectly logical. Like people are drawn to each other, its why as teenagers we either choose our friends from the mainstream or join a sub-cultural tribe. We are much the same as adults. On Friday the 18th November imagine my delight at being immersed into the world of Alice with a room full of people who share my passion for fairy tales. The venue was Tate Liverpool and the symposium was entitled The Wonder of Alice: Images, Myth and realities. Complimenting their current exhibition Alice in Wonderland, the symposium papers were diverse, examining Alice as a source of inspiration from her inception in the 19th century right through to present day.

I particularly enjoyed Dame Gilliam Beer’s paper Alice’s Curiosity which took us on an extraordinary journey through the correspondence to Dodgson from his father which was a revelation to the formers juvenilia. I particularly enjoyed this poem; it is exquisitely humorous but also reveals some of Dodgson’s childhood reading. The poem seems to simultaneously parody moralising children’s tales which were extremely popular during the Victorian era and nods to fairy tales. I couldn’t help but notice how the theme of this poem seems to be an inversion of the Brothers Grimm’s Fundevogel or the Foundling http://www.bartleby.com/17/2/23.html

Brother and Sister

“SISTER, sister, go to bed!
Go and rest your weary head.”
Thus the prudent brother said.

“Do you want a battered hide,
Or scratches to your face applied?”
Thus his sister calm replied.

“Sister, do not raise my wrath.
I’d make you into mutton broth
As easily as kill a moth”

The sister raised her beaming eye
And looked on him indignantly
And sternly answered, “Only try!”

Off to the cook he quickly ran.
“Dear Cook, please lend a frying-pan
To me as quickly as you can.”

And wherefore should I lend it you?”
“The reason, Cook, is plain to view.
I wish to make an Irish stew.”

“What meat is in that stew to go?”
“My sister’ll be the contents!”
“Oh”
“You’ll lend the pan to me, Cook?”
“No!”

Moral: Never stew your sister.

From Dodgson’s photographs of Alice Liddell through to Anna Gaskell’s contemporary interpretations of Alice the symposium was a visual delight. There was the familiar and beloved illustration by Tenniel, absolutely stunning photographs by Anna Gaskell (see below) and the hauntingly beautiful paintings and film by the Swiss artist Annelies Strba. Each speaker wove a sinuous argument around the visual works they included in their papers, catching and tying together all the threads that make Alice bewitching.


Carol Mavor delivered an astounding paper in the form of a fairy tale, in which she argued the links between visual representations of Alice and the consumption of food – primarily eggs. Taking inspiration from the passage in the book where the pigeon accuses Alice with her long neck of being a serpent who is there to steal the eggs from its nest, Mavor cleverly linked the consumption of eggs as fuel for human growth with albumen as a fixative in early photography.

Rather than being an overt telling of Alice, passages of the book were rewritten and woven into a narrative about a little girl called Nancy who lives in the American Deep South. Here, Mavor’s story telling was superlative, using her powers of description to evoke the heat and smells of the south, the story became languorous and sultry like a Tennessee Williams play. Gentle repetitions, increased the feeling of a languor acting soporifically upon the audience until we too like Alice/Nancy where falling down the rabbit hole into a wonderland of Mavor’s making

Martin Greenland – ‘New Fiction’

‘New Fiction’ is the current exhibition of Martin Greenland’s work at the Cornerstone Gallery at Liverpool Hope University. Consisting of approximately 20 works the exhibition marks a triumphant return to Liverpool for Greenland following his success in 2006 when he won the John Moores painting prize for his work Before Vermeer’s Clouds.

A statement for ‘New Fiction’ asserts that the works in the exhibition represent ‘ the balance between the believable, based upon what is seen, and the unbelievable, the unseen’; and without a doubt there is something of the uncanny within Greenland’s paintings.  juxtaposing the familiar with the strange Greenland creates a truly ‘das unheimlech’ sensation; the viewer is disquieted, yet seduced. A wonderful articulation of this sensation can be found in works such as End of Empire and Northumberland, Before and After (No3). Both canvasses are texturally rich and suffused with velveteen darkness, that in the Edmund Burke use of the word are sublime. They have an eerie gothic quality in the best tradition of Ann Radcliffe’s 1791 novel The Romance of the Forest.

End of Empire, with its decaying building surrounded by dark and claustrophobic trees with a beach just visible is a haunting image. The dilapidated building could be anything from a public Art Gallery to an asylum, its classical architecture at odds with the wild woods that surround and threaten to engulf it. Each of the components, the building, the woods and the beach are familiar in isolation yet combined as they are in this work they are as elusive and dreamlike – it is a place on unreality, a place to escape to and from.

Similarly, Northumberland, Before and After (No3) utilizes a brooding palette of colours again to the effect of creating an ambiguous space that is both beauty and terror combined. However The Flood and Playground could be considered the polar opposites to the works already discussed. Both these works are bright daylight scapes with open breathable compositions but are no less sinister for it. If anything I found these paintings infinitely more disquieting than the dark canvasses. They have a different sense of dereliction, where End of Empire has the sense of gentility in decay, Playground feels like an abrupt abandonment, largely due to the palpability of humanity, there is a trace of what was and what could be again.

Although the landscape is dominant within Martin Greenland’s paintings, for me they are not Landscape paintings, they are more charged and more personal than that. There is nothing twee about the subject matter or the emotions they evoke and are definitely worth spending a couple of hours with so as to fully absorb and appreciate the nuanced atmosphere of each work.

Martin Greenland – New Fiction is at the Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool Hope University from 18th September to 12th November 2010

Cornerstone Gallery  http://www.hope.ac.uk/cornerstone-gallery/welcome-to-the-cornerstone-gallery.html

Martin Greenland  http://www.martingreenland.co.uk/