Posted by: rojas25m | December 20, 2015

The Stillness of Transitions in Art


I was really enchanted by these images by John Tenniel of Alice literally going through the looking-glass .  I thought it was a charming representation of the symbolic journey a child undertakes when he or she transitions from the frolicking days of early childhood to the more chaotic  teenage years.  Using two panels to demonstrate the movement from one plane to the next was very important to the effectiveness of this illustration.  the fact that we see Alice’s back in the image that shows her in the logical world outside the looking-glass acknowledges that she is living this world behind to move forward in her journey.  In the second image, we see Alice’s face and her front foot braced and ready to move the rest of her body through this portal into this new world.  The hand that she is still bracing against the solid part of the looking-glass seems to be the last tether she has with that other world.

I so enjoyed the Tenniel illustrations that I decided to look for other representations of transitions.  I was hoping to find some other mediums that would do as good a job at representing this complex scene.  I came across this horror-show:

My excuses to anyone from England specifically Guildford Castle in Surry where this is located, but… yeah.

The first thought I had was (and maybe this was influenced by the opening of Star Wars episode 7 this weekend) that she looked like Han Solo when he was frozen in carbonite.  The distinct foot is there, just like in the Tenniel, but the medium is, perhaps, too static to represent the transition.  There is, also, the issue with the expression on the face.  Here is a child that is going on a fantastical journey and yet her face is devoid of any emotion.  I also wondered why one arm was raised so high, as if she was reaching for something inside the glass.  Although it miss the mark, I have to commend the artist for trying to depict this transition in a medium that is so much about stillness.


  1. I’m actually glad that you came across these images — I don’t think I would have come across them otherwise! It’s strange how the sculpture attempts to bring the two dimensional images evocative of a fictional Alice’s journey to a three dimensional space and how the result is an object that is, in many ways, quite disturbing. For me, the idea of the act of passing through a mirror existing in the “real” world is not as fantastical and whimsical as it is on the page of a book.

    Kind of along the lines of some of the issues you were getting at — namely the static nature of this medium of representation — the “real life” logistics of passing through a mirror (if it were possible) are brought to light, diminishing any sense of the whimsy implied in the text. This is an interesting example how a story is translated across mediums and how meanings are lost in the process.

  2. As a contrast to this rather unsuccessful three-dimensional representation of Alice, I wanted to share an example how three-dimensionality in Wonderland looks when done right. I discovered a very cool version of Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland that is actually a pop-up book. Though the text is significantly abridged, it is still faithful to Carroll’s original story, but the images are really what make this book pop (so to speak). Opening its pages, very detailed, elaborate scenes from the story spring up, almost enveloping a reader with their nose too close to the book. There are also interactive or tactile elements of the book that require peeping down the White Rabbit’s hole, or touching the Cheshire Cat’s fuzzy fur.

    I would say that instead of detracting from the original text or illustrations, the pop-up elements serve to invite the young reader to accompany Alice down the rabbit hole into Wonderland and observe her journey just as she sees it. The book accomplishes the portrayal of the issues of size essential to the book especially well — one page shows Alice’s body after it has grown giant, with her legs sticking out of the front door and chimney. The act of turning the pages also causes the pop-up elements to become animated, which is something that traditional illustration is unable to accomplish, though it comprises of the same elements of drawings on paper. Very curious indeed.

    See the book in action here!

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