Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland at Fotografiska is an immersive fairy tale world where fantastical characters and luxuriant nature seem to grow out of the darkness in dramatic, saturated colors. One enters the stunning multimedia exhibit through a panoramic installation of yellow leaves gently fluttering down through red woods, the darkened chambers filled with specially composed soundscapes of birdsong, a child’s laughter, or a heartbeat heard through the body of a loved one. This is the first exhibit to display the complete suite of 74 images, and the true scale wallpaper prints effectively transport you to ancient English woodlands. Wonderland is a richly textured and meticulously constructed fantasy land both imagined and discovered, which is to say, growing out of the artist’s imagination and growing right outside her door.
After losing her mother to brain cancer, Kirsty escaped into this project, retreated behind her camera to the woods surrounding her house, to childhood memories of her mother reading fairy tales aloud and that magical world they shared. The project to create a storybook without words dedicated to her mother became a 5-year labor of love, with some images taking up to 5 months, considering she made all the costumes, headdresses and jewelry by hand, not to mention the props and set elements. A fashion designer by profession, it is evident that she trained with Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan in the elaborate and fanciful costumes and sets.
Kirsty’s journey through grief and the creative process led her to connect with nature, find beauty in the darkness, experience joy in creation, and a way to commune with her mother. As she explains on her blog: “Nature has always been a silent part of every picture, an unspoken guardian leading each character along their paths… She is all things, a shape-shifting backdrop of seasons and skies and, if I am honest, throughout all of this, she has become the metaphor for my mother.”
The making of Wonderland reads like a fairy tale of sorts, a story about the healing power of art, with our protagonist finding her calling and means of expression in photography; renewing the circle of life with the birth of her first child and becoming a mother herself; then fighting and defeating the same monster that took her mother – cancer. At the end of the book, her character approaches the door in “The Fade from Fallen Memories” with the key, with the knowledge that on the other side of every ending is a new beginning, ready to step from the winter of despair into the spring of new hope. We wish Kirsty the best of luck with that magical key to unlock her future!