Project Alice: A Fantastical Representation of A Somber Reality

BY CATHERINE CHOJNOWSKI

After roughly two years of anticipation, Project Alice, a collaborative art exhibition featuring 40 Staten Island artists made its debut at the Reformed Church on Staten Island. For two consecutive weekends in October, the church was transformed into a multi-room immersive art experience.

 PHOTO: Jess /  Instagram

PHOTO: Jess / Instagram

Project Alice featured a number of photo and video series, as well as life-sized sculptures and other interactive details. Through the collective works of local Staten Island artists, the exhibition used Alice in Wonderland, based on Lewis Carrol's novel, as a narrative to reference and explore various social issues: LGBT rights, addiction, depression and suicide awareness, police brutality, and the political divide our country faces.

Visitors were welcomed at the exhibit's entrance with an assortment of themed cookies, some directly referencing Disney's animated rendition of Alice in Wonderland, reading "EAT ME." The first room showcased scene-setting decorations and installments. Large mushroom sculptures and clouds in a dimly lit room filled with colorful, ambient lights immersed the viewer into a fantastical, mysterious world. The room, scattered with themed photography and a video installation, set the mood for the rest of the exhibit.

Viewers were then directed through a narrower corridor with strings of blue and white plastic orbs hanging from the ceiling into the next section of the exhibit. This section was LGBT rights and gender identity, featuring various photographs, decorative details, and neon signs alluding to the issues of gender conformity in today's society. Visitors were welcomed to sit down in front of a vanity, look at themselves in a mirror, and taste a colorful chocolate before continuing through the exhibition.

Following the LGBT rights section, visitors were guided into the "dining hall" by the Cheshire Cat himself. This section, perhaps the most dynamic of the exhibition, featured long tables, an array of Alice in Wonderland characters, and on select nights, live performances. Actors dressed up as characters sat along the table, reenacting the Mad Hatter's Tea Party scene, but in a far more somber way. Scattered across the table were teapots, teacups, saucers, and teaspoons along with colorful crystal candies, syringes filled with colorful liquids, and powder formed into lines on silver trays. Upon entry into the "dining room," visitors were each handed a small plastic baggie filled with colorful candies and invited to the join the "party." The theme of this section of the exhibition was unmistakably addiction. The characters seated at the dining room table were meant to represent addiction to different substances -- from a distance the setting look fairly normal, but once the details of the table were discovered, the truth of the "party" revealed itself.

A small, dimly lit room featured another subject: depression and suicide awareness. The main feature of this section was a tub with blood-red candles around the edges, which had melted into and around the tub, resembling both blood and tears. In the tub were photographs exploring the theme of depression, and a abstract, cinematic representation of the subject played softly above.

After visiting the dining room, viewers were led through dimly lit corridors with black ribbon hanging from the ceiling. On these ribbons were the names of victims of police brutality, written in white lettering. The corridor was circular, and visitors then emerged into the final section of the exhibition, which the corridors had wrapped around.

The subject of the final section was politics, specifically referring to the political divide our country is facing currently. Photographs and powerful messages of unity covered the walls, including a series of portraits in which the subjects shed a single blue, red, and white colored tear. In the center of the room was a podium, behind which yet another cinematic piece was being played for the audience.

After exploring the final room, visitors were guided out of the dystopian fantasy realm they had just witnessed and back into a not-so-different reality. Project Alice explains: "We've all embodied a part, if not multiple parts of Alice at some point in our life. Maybe you've felt like you've changed from the person you were yesterday. Or have found yourself feeling lost, being pulled in every direction. Meeting different influencers, both good and bad. Nevertheless affecting your life's path. You may lose yourself, but you will find yourself in the process."

Lead Image Credit: Jess / Instagram