Doris Andrew interacts with the current installation at the Durango Arts Center, “Down the Rabbit Hole.” The multi-artist exhibit might require more than one visit to take it all in, but will likely provoke, stimulate and give pause to anyone who sees it./Photo by Steve Eginoire

Shades of Alice in Wonderland

Durango Arts Center’s latest exhibit channels Lewis Carroll

by Stew Mosberg


What:  “Down the Rabbit Hole,” an interactive sculptural exhibit featuring the work of more than 20 local artists
Where: Durango Arts Center, 802 E. 2nd Ave.
When:  Through March 25

Lewis Carroll’s perennial classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is rife with some of literature’s most quizzical metaphors, or as one might quote from the story, a “curiouser and curiouser” philosophical journey into self discovery.

Accepting a premise that navigating through this world sometimes takes us down the “rabbit hole,” artists Jeff Madeen, Joan Levine-Russell, and the DACs Director of Education, artist Sandra Butler, have created a provocatively fascinating and entertaining exhibition. In order to transform the Barbara Conrad Gallery into an interactive sculptural installation, the three creators invited more than 20 other artists to join them in the mission.

The resulting exhibit is a marvel of ingenuity in its concept, and the sheer array of interpretive work is a testament to our local artists’ talent. Turned into more of a rabbit warren than gallery space, visitors will find part of the fun is meandering through alleyways and tight corners while stopping to view or partake of the art.

It will help visitors seeing the show to keep Carroll’s upside down worldview in mind. The work staying close to the theme of the show is the most successful, largely because boundaries have been overstepped and the proposed message requires introspection.

Piloting through our daily lives leaves so many unanswered questions or in some cases, questions that have multiple answers. Alice’s encounter with the caterpillar, who inquires through a haze, “Who are you?” is not all that easy for the young protagonist to fathom.

According to the show’s masterminds, the exhibit is a metaphor, “For the conceptual path that is thought to lead to the true nature of reality.”  As with life itself, the show tends to be complex and has many layers. It is an examination of our motivations and intentions, and as Butler, Madeen and Levine-Russell point out,    it explores “Our resistance to the unknown,” as           well as whether or not to use intuition 4

or intellect when the facts are limited.

“Down the Rabbit Hole” illustrates some of the conditions we are presented with in this world and reminds us to be conscious of how we respond to them.

Inside the gallery, a revolving doorway takes visitors in one direction or another, leading to four sub-themes, “Media,” “Meditation,” “Incarceration” and “Play,” where paintings on the walls, sculptural elements overhead, and objects on the floor combine to tell a story. At the opening reception, early arrivals were treated to conceptual artist and dancer Adriana Cubides performing an interpretive piece which was simultaneously presented as a video stream in the lobby. Her hyper-energy is as boundless as her ingenuity and uniqueness. The video will remain on view in the lobby but sadly without the audio, which is significant for its nonsensical monologue, not unlike the Jabberwocky in Alice’s Wonderland. 

The aspect of movement through the space to view this show is a rare occurrence at the DAC and a welcome change to how we see and experience art. The artists involved embraced the theme with humor, imagination and resourcefulness using a broad array of materials incorporating mirrors along with everyday objects and live performers.

A few of the artists enthusiastically shared their perspective and joy in being part of the show. Rebecca Barfoot, whose entry is titled “Lay Down Your Grief and Kiss the Ground,” explained, “(My piece) explores the Alice metaphor as a rich spiritual journey inherent to the collective human struggle.”

Amy Felker’s “Hurry, Hurry Step Right Up!” manifests a belief that her life is a circus, and she a performer. “I often feel that I am on stage and must act accordingly,” she said.

Maureen May’s piece is titled “With Eyes Wide Open.” The multi-talented May acknowledged that her very own rabbit hole is the place she goes when creating my artwork. “It sometimes takes me to places I had no intention of going, or where I needed to go, though the outcome was a mystery.”

Inside the Barbara Conrad Gallery at the DAC, a revolving doorway takes visitors in one direction or another, leading to four sub-themes of the exhibit, “Media,” “Meditation,” “Incarceration” and “Play,” where paintings, sculptural elements and reclaimed objects combine to tell a story./Photo by Steve Eginoire

Tim Kapustka produced “Buckets of Truth,” which employs three buckets set atop pedestals. The concept being, he explained, “That you look into these buckets and see a pure truth; the idea that truth is very much a relevant term; an individual belief.”

Jeff Madeen is best known for his conspiracy theories and an assiduous attempt to expose government control, surveillance and deprivation of liberties. Here, one of his contributions is a seemingly endless strip of paper that runs the length of several walls, and is festooned with a diatribe he describes as the world’s longest rant. It is worth reading and most poignant when combined with the adjacent prison cell he has created that uses strips of mirrors in a startling and very affective way.

Co-curator Sandra Butler has put together a nontraditional playground that incorporates the show’s ubiquitous mirrors plus conceptual wheelchair teeter-totters and assorted playground equipment while foreboding their inherent hazards.

“Down the Rabbit Hole” may require more than one visit to delve into the connotations the artists were reaching for; some are more easily comprehended while others are obscured, but one thing is certain, the show will provoke, stimulate and give pause to anyone who sees it.

As the perplexed Alice said, “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”