Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
“I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland,” proclaims Yayoi Kusama, Japan’s most celebrated contemporary artist, aligning herself with the heroine of Lewis Caroll’s classic. Almost everyone is acquainted with Caroll’s trippy tale of precocious little Alice, who follows a white rabbit down a hole and encounters a fantastic cast of characters. Almost 150 years after its original release, Penguin has reissued this enchanting story, exuberantly illustrated by the legendary Kusama, and presented as a beautiful fabric-bound hardcover book. Like Salvador Dalí before her, who also illustrated this whimsical account in his signature surrealist style, Kusama’s hallucinogenic and charmingly naïve renderings are another natural fit for this winding story of white rabbits, smoking caterpillars and smiling Cheshire cats, adding to the wonder of this familiar narrative.
Born in Matsumoto City, Japan in 1929, Kusama is internationally renowned for her repeating dot patterns that appear in an astounding range of works including painting, drawing, sculpture, film and installation. Since childhood she has experienced hallucinations literally causing her to see spots – and these circles have filled her life and work since. “My art originates from hallucinations only I can see,” Kusama said, and her endless polka dots have been used in her work to cover walls, canvases, household objects and even naked performers. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Kusama’s bold palette and voracious appetite for patterning infuse the tale with a mix of Surrealist, Pop, primitive and psychedelic qualities. Alice’s adventures which depict her shrinking and growing, encountering exotic creatures, and questioning that which she sees and know, are perfectly paralleled by Kusama’s intoxicating patterns composed of endless circles and geometric webs that simultaneously conjure the organic and the cellular, the cosmos – an infinite expanse beyond what is immediately visible – and imagination itself. Her depictions of flora and fauna including creatures of the sea and air, lend to the feeling that Kusama has created the backdrop or set the scene to Alice’s exploration of her fabled Wonderland.
When so much reading is now done online, this tome is a stellar example of why it’s still enjoyable and even important to experience things in print, on a page. The worlds themselves are sometimes used as a design feature with the clever typesetting exaggerating selected bits of text such as “Down, down, down”, Alice’s fatal fall, and the familiar and foreboding “Drink me”. Her woe is greatly exaggerated across two pages which simply read “What will become of me?” Kusama’s drawings are given luxurious treatment in this book – some pages are void of text, occupied solely by her alternately delicate and bold repeating abstractions, making this publication a true marriage between Kusama and Carroll’s visions. Kusama’s proclamation that she is a modern Alice leads one to see them as allies – both boldly exploring the world around them, limited only by their imaginations. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have long been enjoyed by children and adults alike and Kusama’s inspired interpretation will certainly prolong this legacy.