Down the Rabbit Hole: Who in the World am I?
Once upon a time.. a Liverpool Alice in Wonderland
…There was a little girl who lived in a small village where nothing ever happened. Like many little girls she dreamed of escaping to a bigger place, with streets paved with gold and lined with opportunities, but the only one she knew was a grim, grey and graffiti laden; a crippled city where people didn’t smile much. When she grew up, the girl left home in search of a Wonderland and settled in a land of rolling hills, farms and fells, far from the graffiti memory of childhood.
And that might have been the end of the story but then…
…. One unsuspecting evening I stumbled into an online episode of Desperate Scousewives that defied my grey recollections. I quickly recognised the glam-tanned babes, cocktails and curlers, but what was with the posh shops, shiny buildings, and city of culture vibe? Could this really be Liverpool? Curiousity peaked, I decided it was time to return to visit Liverpool, to jump back down my rabbit hole and re-assess my childhood memories.
A trip to Wonderland was the last thing I expected. But at the age of 44, I found myself in a fairy lit fantastical world, where my perceptions were challenged, and expectations confounded. Disorientated and lost, without a white rabbit to follow, I was forced to take a fresh look at the city that grew up alongside me, a city that’s regenerated and reinvented itself while I’ve been busy building a family. A city that’s now a UNESCO Heritage site like the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. A city that for the first time made me feel small and overwhelmed. A city that was coincidentally celebrating the topsy turvy world of Alice.
Curiouser and curiouser…
“You see that line? That marks the size Alice grew to when she ate the biscuit.” says the volunteer guide at Tate Liverpool. We all follow the line with our eyes and imagine what it’s like to be more than 9 feet tall.
“Is there a line showing what she shrunk to when she had the drink?” asks Cameron.
“No, actually there isn’t.” says the guide.
“There should be.” advises Cameron, our self-appointed curator.
The Tate’s Alice is not the one I know
Tate Liverpool’s current exhibition, Alice in Wonderland, is the first complete exploration of the story’s influence on the visual arts. From the author’s original drawings to surrealist paintings inspired by the story, it explores a world where things aren’t what they seem.
“He wasn’t even called Lewis Carroll,” says Cameron. “His name was Charles L. Dodgson!”
Over several floors of the exhibition, we discover the story of Alice was never written as a best seller. It was conceived to entertain a young girl; Alice Liddell, and tells the story of an adolescent who struggles with her changing identity and body image, a girl who is faced with a puzzling, unsettling world, yet still remains in control of her own destiny. It is a story of individuality and self-knowledge, a deconstruction of time and language, a dream of a fantastical world. And a story that adults may read and interpret quite differently to the children they are reading it to.
It’s interesting that this exhibition coincides with my first visit to Liverpool in many years. Like Alice, I feel an altered relationship with my surroundings. Leaving as a child, I return now as an adult, bringing my own children to experience this wonderland. And it is a Wonderland. This city now glitters where it once glowered.
This is not the Liverpool I remember
The Liverpool of my childhood was corrupted by local politicians and robbed of its dignity by central government policies. Years of unemployment had left it angry and depressed. The glory years of the Beatles were well behind it and John Lennon was dead. Historic buildings like St George’s Hall were coated in a charcoal grime from traffic pollution and the people in comparison looked pale and white-faced. Tower blocks were the only investment in the landscape, apart from a few shops at The Albert Dock, where hardly anyone went because it was too far from town.
Now, like Alice, I stand, bewildered, questioning everything I knew and trying to make sense of my surroundings. Scale is altered here. I have been shrunk to the size of a dormouse.
Like Alice I am shrunk
The billion pound Liverpool One dwarfs me. Even its escalators seem to stretch into eternity. It drips with gold and its sparkle rubs off on the people. They all have a rosy glow, (some of them veering on orange admittedly.) Without exception the young women have made an effort to be out today, with dyed, sculpted eyebrows and highlighted hair. Trade is brisk in the boutiques and shops; the big brands are all here; Armani and Apple, Lego and John Lewis. With the Liverpool One development now bridging the city centre, Albert Dock and Echo Arena, the city feels bigger, bolder and more integrated now, with the illuminated Big Wheel towering over it all, studding the sky with diamonds.
And Alice is everywhere. From the pop-up book swap cafe with giant tea pots in the Metquarter Centre, to the Curious Garden with its tea cups in Williamson Square; this city knows how to pull off a theme. I wonder where it all began. Did the Tate decide to do an exhibition, with the city following, or did the city turn itself into Wonderland inspiring an exhibition? As Lewis Carroll himself put it “Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
The hands move on the giant clock face below the world famous Liver Birds. The Three Graces look out onto the dark river, as they have done for centuries. The seagulls squeal and fight for scraps while the people dine on fine food in the regenerated face lifted Albert Dock.
And immersed in a childhood landscape that has changed so much, of course I have to ask, “Who in the world am I?”
- You can go to the Republic of the Moon, FACT
- Where’s there’s tea there’s hope
- I lost my tooth to art, Palaces at The Bluecoat
- Down the Rabbit Hole at Tate Liverpool
- Danny and Yazz take us on The Old Dock Tour
- Meeting the Locals in the Friendliest City
- Sleeping with the Joker in the Albert Dock
- It’s Like a Dream but Better>
- I’m taking the kids back to my Liverpool Childhood
Disclosure note: Thanks to the Tate Liverpool for providing a family ticket to enable us to visit and review Alice in Wonderland.