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Venture Down a VR Rabbit Hole With This Free ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Tour

The Victoria and Albert Museum will host a free, Lewis Carroll-inspired virtual reality experience on October 22

A still from "Curious Alice," which features original artwork by Kristjana S. Williams (Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum)
smithsonianmag.com

Since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland debuted in 1865, the fantastical tale of a young girl who falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in an alternate universe has inspired countless retellings, from the classic 1951 Disney animated film to a grown-up 2010 Tim Burton version, a Cirque de Soleil show, theme park rides and even an Instagram adaptation.

A new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, “Alice: Curiouser and Curioser,” will chart a century and a half of the story’s cultural impact upon opening in March 2021. But Wonderland fans don’t have to wait until next year to see the show: Thanks to a virtual reality (VR) exhibition launched by the museum and tech company HTC Vive Arts, audiences will soon be able to enjoy a sneak preview from the comfort of their own homes.

Dubbed “Curious Alice,” the free, 45-minute-long VR experience is scheduled for 2 p.m. London time (9 a.m. Eastern time) on October 22. Participants can join through the VR platform Engage (sign-up is required ahead of time), or by logging on with a Windows PC or Android device. A live version of the event will also be available via the museum’s YouTube page.

Still from "Curious Alice," a virtual reality experience launching on October 22 (Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum)

During the preview, users will wander through a virtual environment inspired by the museum’s ornate 19th-century building, reports Aimée McLaughlin for Creative Review. A personal companion—a white rabbit similar to the one Alice encounters in her own fictional journey—will accompany visitors as they encounter visual effects including a “pool of tears” and a “hallway of doors,” per a statement.

The immersive landscape is based on digital collages by Icelandic artist Kristjana S. Williams. These illustrations will also decorate the in-person exhibition.

As Williams explains in a V&A video, she was inspired by the dreamlike qualities of Carroll’s novel, as well as an array of 18th- and 19th-century prints in the V&A’s collections.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has endured through the centuries to become one of the most popular works of English-language fiction in history. Carroll—whose real name was Charles Dodgson—originally told the story to Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the daughters of one of his colleagues at Oxford University. At Alice’s urging, Carroll wrote out the story by hand.

Williams isn’t the first artist to craft illustrations for the whimsical work. Political cartoonist John Tenniel created 92 drawings for the original 1865 edition of Carroll’s novel; in subsequent years, Surrealist Salvador Dalí and polka-dot-obsessed contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama both crafted their own artistic renditions of the children’s story.

Directly after the October premiere, the full “Curious Alice” experience will be made available for purchase for £3.99 ($5.15 USD). At the physical exhibition in March, attendees will also have the chance to don headsets and explore an extended VR game based on Alice’s famous topsy-turvy croquet match against the Queen of Hearts. The slate of programming marks the V&A’s first foray into virtual events, according to the statement.

“Since their creation the Alice books, with their mind-blowing ideas and concepts, have been a source of inspiration for new technologies from silent film to CGI,” says Kate Bailey, senior curator of theatre and performance, in the statement.

She adds, “Alice’s impossible journey through a fantastical universe becomes possible in this exciting new creative platform. From rabbit holes to mirrors, flamingoes to hedgehogs, [W]onderland is the perfect world for VR.”

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser opens at the V&A in London on March 27, 2021.

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