A lunch experience full of wonder. Full of juxtaposition, full of the unexpected, full of fantasy.
When the door opens at the Prinsengracht 468, a kind magician welcomes me, she seems to have come straight out of Alice in Wonderland, however she doesn’t cast any spells, she just makes you feel welcome by releasing a tsunami of friendly hostess small-talk. She invites you to step into another world and when you pass the threshold, it almost feels as if you are tripping with your eyes open. Senses start to work overtime as your eyes, ears and nose meet the absurd and surreal acts, people and décor.
The scene has been set in an abandoned office-space, filled with carefully curated mini-exhibitions of unusual scavenged and created objects. A guy completely undisturbed by the event moves his ladder around whilst painting a yellow stripe following a track with its own inexplicable logic, crossing floor, walls and ceiling. This is Esben Ingeslev, his act is inspired by the timekeeping rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. We are spectators to two teenagers that seem locked up in the control room. They are playing games that are being projected on the wall behind them. A peek-a-boo for adults into the imaginary worlds of on-line games.
We enjoy a tantalizing and mind-twisting appetizer in the main hall;
Oyster-cocktail, Oily Anise Ice Cream, tea to chill our mind, and chili as a metaphor to tickle our thoughts about cooking as a tool for personal coaching. All are served in sand-filled wheelbarrows and work like mini business cards for one-person companies.
Then the moderator Neske Beks wondrously dressed like a modern tale princess with an 80’s edge, appears on stage and greets us all welcome. She explains how New Wonderland is a Nu Monument, a monument that is created by us, the participants, our dialogue with the exhibitors and each other. We are encouraged to start our journey through the rooms that have been filled with mini-exhibitions to trigger senses, mind and soul.
We first encounter the Fountain of Wishes; we write our wishes on scraps of paper and throw these in a symbolic paper-fountain. The artist will publish these later and start a revelation log. Then we Play with Your Food, Eating our menu that has been printed on edible paper, this happening is a tongue-in-cheek take on the traditional Dutch Cookie Snapping played at children’s birthday parties and Queens Day. We then enter a space that has been converted into a Cinema room; again we are being played with. We crawl under a cloth to designated watching spots, indicated by printed feet, popping our head through a cloth to watch a slide show “the making of New Wonderland”. The decapitated heads float on top of the symbolical water line. The body is strangely alienated and uninvolved below the water line.
Then we are confronted with the subtlest wonder of the day; a poem has been put on the carpet with chalk. As we carelessly pass through the room, we start to ruin the beautiful thought. In a small claustrophobic room we find The Bite of a Smell. It looks like the mad scientist laboratory, it’s actually a disintegration laboratory where the smell of… has been mapped out, all the components have been trapped in a small bottle. Even such things as intangible emotions are caught here; i.e. father. To close our journey through the senses we watch stunningly beautiful flower-arrangements created with an unusual yet mundane ingredient; vegetables. It would more rightly deserve the name; veggie sculptures.
We all end-up at the lunch, created by DUS architects, famous for their interventions in public space where they stimulate spontaneous and serendipitous dialogue. They have created an enormous “cooking island” The hosts and servants are seated in holes in the middle of the table, the center of attention and the center of conversation. Bread has been baked in the Amsterdam mugs they created for Ittala, and everything else that is being served obeys the concept of unusual; wine is served by being pumped up from Demijohns, vegetables are served from table-recesses. We close off with Choco-Garlic; raw garlic cloves coated in thick bitter chocolate. What a surprising taste sensation, the chocolate completely neutralizes the garlic.
Whilst enjoying lunch my eyes linger on the art-installations by Kevin Power, he has hijacked the boring and mundane office light fixtures and used them as shelves on which he has installed grotesque compositions, completely in the spirit of Hieronymus Bosch. New Wonderland is like walking into a curiosity cabinet, there is no end to the curiosity.
During lunch Meike Ziegler, inspirator and curator of New Wonderland, opens a central debate about the event. Together we evaluate what we liked, what we missed and how this concept can further be put into practice. The hospitality and catering industry needs innovation; Facebook is a giant cocktail party, always on, but it makes some people feel even more disconnected from real people and real conversations. Can a café, restaurant or gallery be set-up in such a way that it encourages conversation with strangers? The original intention of the concept is to make this conversation therapeutic for both host and visitor. Can a change of context provoke such a sense of liberty that individuals will open up and reveal their personal aspirations to discover their latent talents, in a dialogue with strangers? These questions remain unanswered today; this first pilot of New Wonderland was intoxicating for the senses, mind and soul. A next trial could maybe focus more on the mind-spa; the social interaction, that could help modern people find balance, harmony and purpose.
I step out. The wonder is over. The touristy shopping crowds soon close in on me, this wonderful afternoon already starts to fade away.