British Columbia

Vancouver artist creates giant book telling tale of Alice, post-Wonderland

Artist Penny Parry explores the connection we have to the physical book, and she does it by engaging all our senses. She uses this exploration to ponder what we stand to lose when we trade virtual experiences for physical ones.

To Have and To Hold art exhibition explores mental and physical connection to books

Penny Parry stands in front of the giant sequel to Alice in Wonderland that she wrote for her new art installation To Have and To Hold, featured at the Crafthouse Gallery at Granville Island. (Sheryl MacKay/CBC)

When Penny Parry was just an infant, her parents bought a hard copy of Alice in Wonderland to read to her every night before she went to bed.

"It was probably the only book I had as a kid — so I loved Alice," she told host Sheryl MacKay on CBC's North by Northwest.

Parry grew up to be many things: a child and youth care practitioner, a professional artist and most recently a short story writer.

In fact, she's opened up a new art installation titled To Have and To Hold that features her own sequel to her favourite childhood story in the form of a nearly two-meter-tall book.

Alice, post-Wonderland

The story is penned from the perspective of a grown Alice. She writes journal entries that share the details of what it's like for her to live in the modern, digital world and provides updates on all of the classic characters.

Her friends are all still around. She shares a summer home with the Cheshire Cat, the time-stricken White Rabbit goes by the name W.R. and works in advertising and Humpty Dumpty is now a political activist.

Parry says the magnitude of her book is meant to reinforce the experience of reading a physical book, something that she fears has fallen by the wayside thanks to technology. 

Much like Alice's life has changed over the years, she says so too have our ways of consuming stories. In the virtual age, the physical book is often replaced by a digital platform, and the book-reading experience has been lost.

The art exhibition also features a small copy of the book and the scents of books and iPads contained in jars. (Sheryl MacKay/CBC)

Parry says books stimulate certain sensations. Everything from their heft to their scent can elicit certain memories or take us back to when we were kids, something that virtual experiences lack.

"Book experiences give our noses an aroma. There's the smell of a new book, there's a smell of an old book, and there's a smell of an iPad, which is of course nothing," she said.

"I'm not techno-phobic," she added. "But people don't usually collect rooms' worth of iPads ... but they collect books."

Parry is worried that if we lose the experience of reading physical books to technology, we will lose an authentic human experience that has generated knowledge, discussion and creativity for centuries.

The giant book stands nearly two-meters tall and is 18 pages long; it is meant to reinforce the experience of reading a book, and those who visit the gallery are encouraged to read and flip through the pages. (Sheryl MacKay/CBC)

"The physical book has a much larger aura about it. It's a whole set of experiences that, as Alice said, make us the creative, caring human beings that we are able to be."

Penny Parry's exhibit To Have and To Hold is on at the Crafthouse Gallery at Granville Island until Nov. 17.

With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Vancouver artist creates giant book that tells the tale of Alice, post-wonderland