‘Wonderland’ at Fotografiska Museum, Stockholm. 2019
It’s March 7th 2019, four days since the big Wonderland Exhibition closed at Fotografiska, Stockholm. I’ve spent the morning collecting together all the press coverage , photos and films of the exhibition interior, pictures of Stockholm tube station billboards …. there’s so much, it’s hard to know how to sum up all that has happened.
Last year I spent three solid months collaborating with Fotografiska’s exhibition producer Lisa Hyden on the design of the show. I stopped work on my new series to dedicate as much time as needed to make sure that this exhibition truly reflected everything I had felt during the creation of Wonderland; after all this would be the pinnacle of ten years work, it had to be right.
We agreed the experience should be deeply personal, immersive, and most importantly for me; adult. I’ve often found that whenever something is linked to fairy tales, there is a tendency to lean towards a sugary childish design, which couldn’t be further from the origins of this series. Wonderland is about grief, adult grief in all it’s rawest forms, and so it was decided we would create a journey that projected exactly that. Not only would the show display all 74 photographs, but it would also include extracts taken from the diaries of the Wonderland book. It was a way to express the stages of loss I had gone through, so as visitors progressed through the dark exhibition hall, it would feel as though the experience was shared; like walking back through each memory alongside me.
The show is the largest and most personal I have ever worked on, it is also the most sensory. For me Wonderland has always been so much more than just the finished photographs. When we began shooting the behind-the-scenes films in the late stages of the project back in 2013, It became clear that the emotional impact of combining music with the pictures allowed people to ‘feel’ the work, there was no need for narration or explanation.
Because the Fotografiska show would be in complete darkness, it felt like the perfect opportunity to incorporate sound, and so I approached Devin Schiro to create 3 soundscapes in the hope that they would further heighten the visitor’s experience. The results were 3 powerful and evocative pieces. The first was intended to set the scene of when my mother used to read to me as a child. How when I lay my head on her chest, I could hear the soft thud of her heartbeat as a backdrop to her stories. Devin chose a combination of echoing footsteps, the creak of old floorboards, a ticking clock and a deep relentless heartbeat that immediately transported you into a maternal, womb like environment. It was late at night during the install when I heard it played in the space for the first time, it was as overwhelming as I’d hoped, and I suddenly found myself crying and had to walk away from the production manager to pull myself together.
The second soundscape was for our ‘Summer Room’. After the intensity of the entrance hall, this space was intended as a haven for visitor’s to pause and take a breath whilst stood before the sea of golden yellow flowers in the huge 5 meter ‘Gaia’s Spell’. Underfoot the floor was covered with artificial grass, whilst above the sound of birds, breeze in the trees and the echo of children’s laughter filled the space. I found this part of the show equally emotional as it took me back to vivid childhood memories and again, of course my mother.
The final soundscape was for the closing scene of Wonderland, the diptych entitled ‘Home’. Here the main character Katie rediscovers her family home, deep in the snow after her 5 year journey. For this area Devin combined the call of a robin, the crush of snow underfoot and the howl of a blizzard, all placed over beautiful classical strings. If I’m honest It completely ripped my heart out, which I suppose was the ultimate goal, as the scene is essentially about acceptance and letting go of grief.
The show also had two cinema rooms running the Wonderland films on loop.
And so the show blossomed into all I could have possibly hoped for and more. So many people have written to me who found it overwhelming, uplifting, draining, reflective, beautiful …. So much emotion and love, and I am so thankful. I am incredibly grateful to Fotografiska for putting so much trust in myself and the series. This has been a monumental step up for the collection, elevating it to a level I never dared imagine. If I’m honest a lot of the time, while I was in Stockholm it all felt like it was happening to someone else. It’s surreal to see the work I began creating in my kitchen and back garden hanging on the walls of such a prestigious museum, being viewed by thousands of people; so many people that on the final Saturday of the show over 3500 people came to see Wonderland. Apparently a record for Fotografiska!
(above, a translated paragraph from Svenska Dagbladet’s glowing review of the show)
(one of the few pictures of me at the show with my beloved Elbie and Katie)
Finally I just wanted to say a heartfelt thanks to everyone who came to the show. For all the hundreds, maybe thousands of messages, emails, social media posts and Wonderland selfies written with such kindness and love. I haven’t been able to keep up with them all, and I am still trying to write replies … but if I don’t get back to you, know that I have read them all and I am so moved and thankful. Below are some of my favourite pictures taken by visitors; the thing I love about this experience is that I think we succeeded in creating a positive space for people to talk about grief – something I feel there isn’t enough of in this world. Seeing these photos of children getting lost in the work with their parents is so poignant for me, I’m pretty sure my mum is tap dancing with joy.
The show will now continue to tour to Fotografiska’s new museums opening in Tallinn (Estonia), New York and London. The next date will be Tallinn this September and I will confirm the others once the schedule is set. It’s hard to believe this is just the beginning, Fotografiska London is set to be largest photo gallery in the world once it is completed … so to bring the show home at that scale is something I still can’t really comprehend.
My goodness …..Wonderland has come such a long, long way ……