This year’s “Illuminating York” was a modern version of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland by a surrealist, Vic Reeves’ point of view. His projected animated characters accompanied by jazz, rock and classical melodies gave a different flavour to the classic story. Generally, his mysterious figures combined with queer elements and colours promoted a surrealistic atmosphere with hidden meanings that only Mr Reeves can probably totally decode.
It is interesting to look at some of his inspirations behind the seemed abstraction. “Mrs Blue Handy”, “Monkey Cyclist”, “Bluezli Bear”, “Red Party Elephant”, and “Spooky Teacher”. Each represent a thought or a moment of Vic’s life and cosmology. In other words maybe he put them there for us to decide what they mean. How can a particular colour affect every person individually in relation to a standardised image we have for a particular animal or profession? Mostly, as you have already noticed, he tried to combine antithetic colours, warm with cold ones, and at the same time express his ambivalent thoughts about contemporary world.
The meanings are of course open for many interpretations and relations to Carroll’s wonderland, however his distaste for commercialising pure elements and transforming them into unnatural and consumable products should be highlighted. Characteristically, the little purple pony ridden by an old and fat lady with green hair and a blue hand symbolises the today’s forced chase for material goods and modern man’s consumerist gluttony. Also, the figure of the blue grizzly bear with a puppy’s face, painted in blue, —here maybe representing calmness or sadness— with the combination of Mussorgsky’s chilling “St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain” in a red-aggressive background wants to show the “tragic irony” that exists in some occasions where people have superstitions and they fear the wrong persons. Especially, when sometimes the ones we think are closer to us tend to be much more dangerous than the wild animals.
Moreover, the monkey cycling and the red elephant dressed up remind us of a circus’ atmosphere where animals tend to look degraded and weak against humans. Metaphorically, the sad and bored faces of Vic’s animal kingdom can be compared to the contemporary reality where fashion victims, or style rules seem to have been increased; a fact that makes them look and act ridiculously and similarly to the way animals look like at circus.
Finally, I saved the best until last: The teacher who “wakes up Vic’s childhood”. Particularly, the creepy look of hers is an obvious negative comment against his bad experience from the strict educational system he experienced. The fact that he chose maths and the number “2” to represent on the board did not happen by chance. Probably, the common phrase “1+1=2” symbolises a wooden and mechanical way of thinking that the system promotes and forces people to adopt. Where did free will or subjective thought go? Vic Reeves, through this surreal and indirect way tries to transit these concerns to the audience and make them philosophise and maybe rearrange their prototypes for life.
What did other people interoperate from Vic’s work? Answers below.