Charlotte Colbert – Wonderland Magazine
Photography by Caroline Mardon
We had the pleasure of speaking with the multimedia artist about her upcoming exhibit, Dreamland Sirens, showing during Frieze London.
A surrealist, psychedelic contemporary reimagining of Alice in Wonderland with a feminine utopia spin, multimedia artist Charlotte Colbert’s new collection of sculptures transforms Fitzrovia Chapel into a mystical, magical world. Titled Dreamland Sirens, the exhibition incorporates sound, wearable art, and the architectural structure of its setting to bring the pieces to life, creating a dynamic and comprehensive experience unlike any predecessors. Working with renowned collaborators, such as film composer Isobel Waller-Bridge and model Lily Cole, Colbert has opened a discussion on feminine power that can be explored by all who stop by the show.
“I’ve always loved stories and narratives, and just trying to make sense of things in that way, like everyone does as kids,” Colbert tells me as we sit down to chat over Zoom. Working across so many art forms, from fiction to film to sculpture and beyond, it is difficult to decipher where she began — even for the artist herself. From working in journalism in France to writing short films and screenplays such as Leave to Remain, to pivoting into photography with a series called A Day at Home that got her picked up by a gallery, she goes where inspiration strikes — letting the medium shift while her vision remains crystal clear: to tell meaningful and thought-provoking stories. Creating props for sets turned into sculpture-making and costumes for photoshoots turned into performative elements at exhibits, and suddenly Colbert was incorporating work of all disciplines imaginable to create fully immersive narratives.
From the V&A, Montpellier Contemporain, Somerset House, Basel Art Fair, and Istanbul Art Fair, Colbert’s work has been shown across remarkable spaces and institutions. Her directorial debut, the BIFA nominated psychological horror film She Will, which she also co-wrote, won Best First Feature at the Locarno International Film Festival as well as the New York Times’ Critic’s Choice award.
Now, she steps into a sci-fi utopia with Dreamland Sirens.
“I was just completely obsessed with this idea that we’re living in the dystopias that were written by science fiction writers in the seventies,” she explains. “And how all these amazing tech visionaries have actually ended up creating, in some ways, the stuff that inspired them as kids. They’ve ended up creating the architecture, the visuals, the world, the talking machines, the driverless cars, all the stuff that was imagined in the seventies.”
“What we’re seeing is this huge brain drain of these incredible visionaries towards alternative futures on the moon, on Mars, in space travel. And what I’m not seeing as much is visionaries of the planet, of our situation. And in some ways I feel like a lot of what our life is now is dealing in reaction to issues — react against climate change, react against pollution — but what I’m not seeing is an imaginary vision that we can all work towards. What do we want? Where do we want our parents to grow old? On Mars or in a house? How do we see it? What do we want? I just think we’re so disempowered, and imagination and visualisation is so disempowered as a craft, as a dream, in our societal system. Every single thing human made was visualised and imagined before. And if we’re not careful, and we don’t imagine and visualise what we want, we’ll never get there. We’re completely screwed if we don’t imagine our utopias today.”
The idea of an alternative reality or a utopia is often explored through the lens of Alice in Wonderland, but Colbert puts her own angle on the story to create a body of work that is as fresh as ever. “I was always very interested in Alice in Wonderland as a portal to change the way you think,” she explains. “It takes you down the rabbit hole into a world that pokes fun at our systems. And in doing that, it gives you the distance to look at yourself — and the whole idea of being in a hurry and being on time and all of that. And it’s completely nuts and bonkers and a bit absurd. And if it’s a bit absurd, that means it can be otherwise, and we can imagine something different. Ultimately, it’s just a convention that we all abide by.”
How does she create a space that encourages viewers to imagine something different? Through an immersive soundscape, playing the part of a narrator leading you down the rabbit hole through ideas of mermaids and sirens and distractions and calls that take us in different routes; through sculptures that you can wander through on your own terms, at your own pace, and in your own direction – making your own narrative; and through a setting that makes you forget you’re right by Oxford Circus.
“The whole area is being destroyed and put back with modern buildings, but that particular tiny little chapel was preserved, because it’s got all these mosaics inside,” she tells me of the space, Fitzrovia Chapel. In addition to the visual, fairytale aesthetic of the space, Colbert finds a connection to the creative recess it provides people from their everyday lives, making note of how “when people used to go more to church or to places of worship or belief, it was always a pause from the grind, a moment where you are taken out of yourself into another narrative that isn’t as connected to your life.”
Connecting with an imaginative narrative, a story you can’t see yet but that you could potentially create yourself, might just be Colbert’s specialty. From her childhood visionaries to her physical explorations providing people with the space to imagine their ideal futures, she pushes those around her to take a pause and truly think. What kind of a world do you dream of?
Dreamland Sirens is presented by renowned art figure Simon de Pury and UTA Artist Space, the gallery extension of UTA. One of the most influential companies in global entertainment, UTA represents some of the most exciting and ground-breaking artists of today. The Artist Space was established in 2018 in Beverly Hills and has expanded across the United States with pop-up spaces and exhibitions. Now, during Frieze London, Dreamland Sirens marks their first show in London.
Dreamland Sirens is open at the Fitzrovia Chapel during Frieze London, from October 11 to 21.