Esther Schipper is pleased to announce Wonderland, Julia Scher’s fifth solo exhibition with the gallery since her first participation in a 1991 group exhibition at Esther Schipper, Cologne.
Twenty years after its first iteration, Scher reenacts her historical environment, Wonderland, 1998. The work was originally conceived—in a smaller scale—for the group exhibition Performance Anxiety at the MCA, Chicago, 1997, but was first presented in its final design in New York a year later, at Andrea Rosen Gallery. The installation subsequently travelled to various institutions such as the CAPC–Musée d’art contemporain in Bordeaux, where it was included in the infamously censored group exhibition Présumés innocents [Presumed Innocents], 2000.
Immersed in the gallery’s theatrical pink and purple light atmosphere, Scher’s Wonderland is a multimedia environment where visitors are welcomed by the sound of the artist’s authoritative yet soothing voice: ‘Attention. There are live cameras here in Wonderland, recording you… Warning. Your size may change, here in Wonderland. Thank you for coming!’ At the center of the space are two semi-circular child-sized desks arrayed with complex technical equipment and cabling, vintage computer monitors with live surveillance footage, various ephemera—such as bags of White Rabbit Creamy Candy—and Scher’s signature pink guard caps and customized uniforms with embroidered patches reading ‘Security by Julia’. These elements form both the nervous system and the metaphorical rabbit hole of a dystopian vision of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a reference underlined by the intro notes of Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 song White Rabbit that Scher incorporates in the environment’s soundtrack.
On the walls, complementing the central assemblage of technological apparatuses and associative materials, large-scale Duratrans prints depict children—among them American actress and director Lena Dunham aged 10—dressed in the same pink uniforms and caps that are neatly folded on the desks. The children, carrying police sticks and other technical equipment which relate to surveillance and supposed security, playfully embody the authority invested in security guards and police officers. On the facing wall, an alignment of convex, concave, and curved mirrors—reminiscent of a Fun House—reflects and distorts the enlarged photographs of the child-guards, contributing to the surreal atmosphere of the room. The interactive installation was conceived for children. By placing them in a position of control and authority, Scher reverses the traditional roles adults/children, protectors/protected, while blurring the line between the ideas of surveillance, security, and threat.
In an adjacent room, an ensemble of small framed photographs from the series of Wonderland prints completes the presentation. Each photograph portrays one of the children, wearing the same pink guard outfit and carrying various surveillance and security gears.
The final part of the exhibition space provides a counterpoint to Wonderland, as well as an intimate setting for Scher’s early video work Discipline Masters, in which the artist attempts to preserve her understanding of her life history. In this four-hour stream of consciousness narrative, Scher recounts her childhood memories, often with details changed or omitted, recalling how her mother became a voyeuristic presence, more sexualized and menacing rather than protective or maternal. The tape Discipline Masters, recorded in the artist’s studio in August 1988, constituted a cathartic retelling of these childhood/adolescent experiences which were a subsequent source for Scher's preoccupation with notions of surveillance, a sexualized and controlling gaze. Less than a year later, the artist created her first pink guard uniforms for the 1989 installation Security by Julia II at Artists Space, New York. Drawing on the juxtaposition of the color’s playful and a uniform’s menacing connotations, Scher combined the analysis of control mechanisms with feminist critique.