The tale of Alice in Wonderland is told under a microscope. A "microscope show" of a fictional story may well be the first time this has been done. For five and a half minutes, an audience of four can sit in front of their own eye piece, attached to the central microscope where Clare Hampson moves slides providing the visuals of the story. The audience, with their own headphones, also follows the story through sound with music, dialogue and sound effects all craftily assembled by Clare as well.
This has been taking place at the Fringe Festival, Melbourne from 15th to 30th September at the Arts House in North Melbourne. Go up the main stairs and you'll see me dressed up as a playing card soldier (the Ace of Hearts, and the heart is an anatomical heart) and I'm your front of house. Squeezed onto the balcony at the top of the stairs is the show. A thin table, adorned with a table cloth and doily cloth, then with the long five eye piece microscope on top. In the middle sits Clare, keeping with the Victorian theme, dressed in a dress of the era.
Looking into an eye-piece, the story begins with the 2001: A Space Odyssey sound track and visual of the marble Earth coming into shot, then like zooming into Google Earth it moves to a Victorian green setting. We reach Alice's point of view. Her voice (Clare's) is an Aussie accent styled like those in the old Australian films like Picnic at Hanging Rock - for what today, the words would seem comically over-enunciated.
The story roles through the different characters and scenes of the story, each made of something different and of something associated with the character; watch parts for the rabbit, heart tissue for the Queen of Hearts, the Jabberwocky was a fruit fly. Within the story, Clare applies special effects with the limited tools she has - dyes continually pressed in the slides creating surreal abstract shapes, the use of layered cellophane and light producing alternate colours, and the animated running Alice. This last one was of only two silhouettes of Alice running, placed on one slide above another. Using the microscope, Clare would focus on one and then the other, continuously, giving the illusion of a running Alice.
Clare was so kind to credit me in this project. With the exception of drawing out the Alice silhouetted images, everything else in this project is hers. She sourced and put together all the slides that tell the story, composited the soundtrack and used her own voice for the variety of characters. She also built the table that the microscope sits on. Due to the awkward dimensions, this couldn't be easily found, so off to Bunnings we went. Additionally, for my costume she put together the fabric. The red beret is from her previous Fringe show, A Window in Mime.
The concept, I first heard about, on our first date, over two years ago. She described the monotony of her job as a pathologist, staring into a microscope day in and out, had given her an idea of a show. Among the cells, blood and tissue she would see things that looked like other things - fascinating both abstract and pictorial. She had already taken images of zoomed in material, such as wine, and turned them into a fabric print and then a dress (dressmaking is yet another of Clare's talents). She saw the potential to use these images to tell a story.
She has finished seven of the ten shows and its success has been incredible. Through word of mouth the show keeps getting more and more popular. The recent review in The Age was amazingly positive. It feels we're on track to have over 500 people see the show by the end of the week.
An exhibition of paintings of trams from both Prague and Melbourne that I had done over two years. They were depiction of trams, originally planned as a pin, to depict the cities of which they were in. I wanted to do a portrait of both places, and experiment with this style of painting I had been developing. I noticed from working from photo - yes, so irresponsibly doing... hell we all do (okay, okay many of us do), I wanted to develop a style that embraced the photo, like Gerhard Richter did decades ago. This cheat of painting from photo, I wanted to acknowledge my source, embrace it, celebrate it, not hide it. Photos today are on screen, I look at a computer screen when I paint. The black, dark areas blend into one another on the computer screen, they form single forms, giant areas of black. After completing my first "Tram on Victoria Street", the happy accident kicked in - the silhouette-like shape of the black trees blending into the darkened buildings. They looked like the silhouetted stencils of graffiti art. I was determined to make this a feature throughout the series. Forcing black shapes in wherever I could. By default, all trees were to be silhouetted from here on in. The vein like tentacles of the branches form great shapes against the white, and they become one with the shadowed shaped in the city and the cables of the trams. The cables of the tram almost seem organic like hanging ivy. The trams are that central icon, which also becomes intertwined with the shadowed shapes.
The strongest were the images of the tram front on - Tram with gum trees and Tram passing Lucerna. The minimalist look of the trams which have shadows/silhouettes around them was a strong appeal. Surprisingly, the grower (the painting that grows on you the more you see it) was Tram on rainy Jindrisska. At first I was pretty indifferent to the painting. However, after seeing others react to it and my own continual revisit of it, I realised there was something great about the choice of colours. The red tram just seems to pop out of the shadows. The contrast of rich colours on the 3D looking objects coming out of the 2D shape of the black. If I take anything from this exhibition, it is next time I revisit this style, the juxtaposition of bright, colourful objects against a flat 2D silhouette spill of darkness will be key.
The exhibition went really well, especially considering I had three weeks to plan, promote and throw it all together (some paintings were still wet on the wall! - such a rush). It was an incredible, under-used building, Gallery Domov, in North Melbourne. I must thank my good friend James Oczko for making this all happen.