I am so glad I took the time to see Wonderland at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, better known as ACMI. Considering it was the day after the Museums Galleries Australia Conference and I still had some work to do, I just wanted to spend some time having fun. Luckily, I have a very good friend in Melbourne who was keen to visit with me and get lost in Wonderland.
From the moment you step into the exhibition until the moment you leave you are essentially thrown down the rabbit hole into a world where objects and technology guide you through the weird and wonderful. Your first stop is to collect a map which assigns you a character and a suggested route through the exhibition. I got the Queen of Hearts. You can use this map in the exhibition for various interactive activites and also in The Queen’s Croquet Ground.
You then face two options – walk through a big door or a little door. Because I am a kid at heart and forget that my knees are not what they used to be, I opted for the little door and literally crawled my way into the exhibition space.
Once inside, you can engage with the display as much or as little as you like. I have read so many reviews that say something similar without actually explaining what that means – so let me try to explain. Basically, you can simply walk through the exhibition and just have fun finding and playing along with the interactives. Alternatively, you can stop and read about all the representations of Alice in Wonderland and closely observe the objects on display. We did a bit of both.
Here were my top three experiences:
1. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
This was a four and a half minute digital experience. You are led into a dark room and told to take a seat at the table. All that is on the table are some white dishes, cups and saucers. As soon as the experience begins, the screens around the room transport you into the woods. Then, the table lights up placing food on your plate and using the tableware to display the Tea Party as depicted in film from the 1930s to present day.
2. The Queen’s Croquet Ground
There are times when you’re in a museum and actually crave something hands-on. Museum fatigue is a real issue and by shaking things up with an activity it can really help in re-focusing a visitor. On the back of the map is a blank playing card. In this room, you can add stickers and create your own character. Then, by placing the map in a scanning machine and by taking a photograph of your face, this character will come alive on a big screen to paint the roses for the Queen.
Growing up, I remember watching one version of Alice in Wonderland over and over again. Clearly I never really focused on what I was watching because I don’t remember the story all too well. To jog my memory, a few years ago I watched the Disney version and loved it. On display were original movie posters and sketches from the production phase. In giant neon pink letters on the side wall was the question ‘Who Are You?’ It balanced informative yet fun in a really interesting way.
I also want to make three general and broad comments on the exhibition.
1. Intergenerational learning
One thing that really stood out to me as we moved through each room was the high level of intergenerational learning taking place. What I mean by this was the fact that we saw so many families working on the activities together and discussing what was on display. The design of the exhibition really encouraged these conversations being both accessible for children yet informative for adults. It was nice to see, for example, grandparents helping their grandkids in The Queen’s Croquet Ground to create their characters.
2. Was it all just shiny technology?
In short, no. I actually left the exhibition thinking ‘wow, I had no idea there were so many representations of Alice in Wonderland’. Aka, this has had a serious impact on not only our culture, but cultures around the world. I think we all have that desire to escape and get lost in a fantasy world of sorts. There of course was a lot of technology – it is, after all, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Reflecting on a talk I heard at the conference, I did notice that the technology encouraged human interactions. Some of it was a bit ‘we’ve added it because that would be cool’, but, there was also quite a lot of technology that sparked conversations.
There were also so many objects on display. My personal favourite was seeing some of the original illustration lantern slides from the 1800s. They were absolutely stunning.
3. Continue the adventure at home
Every map had a unique code that allowed you, after the exhibition, to re-enter Alice’s Wonderland. There is more information about each of the dispays and some behind-the-scenes videos. I am not sure exactly how well this would be utilised by visitors to the exhibition – it would be very interesting to find out!
In terms of mentioning anything critical about the exhibition, I am sure there would be comments made that it was a little too much. Putting a lot into the one exhibition did get a little exhausting and by the end I did not want to look at another screen (irony is I’m looking at a screen now writing this post). As someone wanting to visit an exhibition that was fun and transported me elsewhere momentarily it most certainly ticked those boxes. I think with this exhibition I had to take off my critical hat and release my inner child.