Alice in virtual Wonderland

Down the Rabbit Hole with the V&A’s new Alice In Wonderland Exhibition

While the V&A’s blockbuster Alice in Wonderland exhibition has been delayed until next year, people will be able to experience the fantasy world thanks to virtual reality (VR).

London-based games studio Preloaded has collaborated with HTC Vive Arts and the V&A on three VR set pieces ahead of Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, which opens March 2021.

The exhibition, which was supposed to open this summer, explores Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland since Lewis Carroll’s manuscript was written 157 years ago.

On display will be photographs of Alice Liddell (Carroll’s alleged inspiration for the eponymous character), illustrator Ralph Steadman’s modern interpretations of the characters as well as elaborate costumes from a 2011 Royal Ballet production.

There will be a live VR event on 22 October – a first of its kind for the museum – which will act as a “teaser” for the exhibition. For this event, people will be able to tune in without a headset.

The 45-minute event will recreate the V&A’s entrance hall and feature objects from the exhibition. People will be able to move about freely as the exhibition’s curator Kate Bailey speaks, taking visitors through some of the exhibition highlights.

The event will feature some of the visuals from the fictional world, such as the Pool of Tears and Hallway of Doors, Caplin says, while the space will be “filled and dressed” in the exhibition’s fantastical style, he adds.

The exhibition experience features two “levels”. Using headsets, people will be able to explore the Hall of Doors (which plays with ideas of scale). Participants will then be led into the queen’s garden where they can take part in a “curious game of croquet”.

There is “hand-tracking technology” so that users can pick up hedgehogs and throw them at hoops which are made of cards, closely mirroring a scene from the book itself. This makes the Queen of Hearts more and more agitated, and when she shouts “off with her head”, the player will be surrounded by a house of cards. The experience is aimed at people aged 15 years old and above and needed to be “instantly understandable” to users.

Icelandic artist Kristjana S. Williams had created the illustrations for the exhibition publication, and these provided the aesthetics for the VR work. Her vintage-style illustrations were based on 19th century paper peep shows – miniature worlds that sought to transport people to faraway lands or theatre sets.

The finished visuals have “etching lines” which fit in with the illustrative style and turn the flat drawings into three-dimensional worlds. A careful consideration to light and dark was also important, the designer says.

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