Curiouser and Curiouser

Local artist creates a gallery wonderland inspired by Alice’s own

by Becky Lang

E WHAT: The Alice Project
WHEN: Until Aug. 17, Gallery hours Friday through Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
WHERE: Stevens Square Center for the Arts
TICKETS: Free, $3 donation suggested everybody’s had that moment when they dug “Alice in Wonderland” out of their old pile of disintegrating VHS tapes and watched it as an adult. Suddenly, Alice is an altogether different entity from The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty. She doesn’t deal with princes; she deals with floating letters and hookahs, pills that mess her up and way too many magic mushrooms. In his latest gallery, The Alice Project, local multimedia artist Cris T. Halverson investigates just what it is that makes the Alice phenomenon so contrary to her innocent blue frock and Cinderella hair.

“I wanted to get across the point that we’re all Alice. The real Alice isn’t blond at all,” he explained as he demonstrated digital images filled with Alices of all colors, ages and abilities. One looks like Heather Graham circa Austin Powers, and another is a young girl, sadly – but also suspiciously – staring through a blue keyhole. He is particularly proud of an image called “The Only Way Out of Madness,” which shows an Alice in a wheelchair staring up at an elaborate winding staircase.

Halverson explained that all of his digital images are compilations from his own photography. He often travels to find unique trees and odd hotel lobbies, and stages his own shoots to create particular moods and settings. After that, he begins the meticulous process of combining fragments of each piece, sketching in the shadows and filling in the details. He estimated that each image takes him about 30 hours.

The Alice Project doesn’t stop in the second dimension; the art comes off the walls and makes its own down-the-rabbit-hole setting.

“I like art that gets in your way,” he explained, picking up a huge plastic flamingo and playing with his cardboard rendering of chess croquet.

Many images have recurring motifs like pipes and keys, and actual recreations (occasionally made from clay and fired simply in Halverson’s own oven) are set in precise locations to make it appear as if elements of the art are falling into reality.

“I wanted to make people feel uncomfortable from the start,” he revealed. The entrance to the gallery features a huge frame that looks like it is made out of bubbles of black tar, frozen in descent and making the air immediately ominous.

Halverson plans to bring The Alice Project to other galleries in the future. It is currently at the Stevens Square Center for the Arts , a window-filled floor tucked into a building two blocks away from The Electric Fetus.

He is also considering making an adult-themed book of “Alice in Wonderland” characters, revealing that he has R-rated versions of many of his images, pointing to one of a naked, genderless Humpty Dumpty, in particular.

Halverson believes that Alice’s experience connects to college students because her journey represents those kinds of “Bam!” transitions in life where everything is suddenly different.

While it might be true that college’s particular transition makes certain types of students partial to psychedelic colors and distorted-state metaphors, The Alice Project makes sure to cater to every type of inner-Alice.