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The Wonder Show: Sympathetic Magic
From the Creators:
As artists, we approached the magic lantern as a device of wonder. We believed that there was something captivating about the Victorian machine projecting flickering images in darkened rooms. Before the dawn of cinema, the magic lantern provided 19th century audiences with access to views never before seen. Seemingly composed of nothing but light and shadow, projected images suggested a certain wavering faithfulness to reality but only an ephemeral, and perhaps deceptive, one. The projected image challenged the relationship between the seen and unseen, reality and representation, and reason and belief.
The projected image is perhaps an example of what the 19th century anthropologist Sir James G. Frazer called “sympathetic magic” to describe the creation of effigies or fetishes: those objects seen to influence the course of events through their likeness to the real world. The magic lies in the act of imitation, in the ability to assemble an alternative reality to the physical one we’ve been presented, the projection of life onto a thing of the creator’s own making.
As we thought about what a 21st century magic lantern show might look like, we became interested in how the idea of “sympathetic magic” might be applied to the idea of art-making itself. We researched magic lantern shows, Phantasmagoria or “ghost shows,” Spiritualist séances, and magician’s conjuring tricks – all to uncover something about the nature of illusion, and the magic of giving form to the spirit, the invisible, the ghosts of history. The exhibit is the documentation of our process of excavating the special collections, experimenting in the darkroom, and imagining what Providence’s 19th century past might have been like. After all, the artist is also a type of conjurer, calling up enchanting illusions that can fade as quickly as they appear.
- Carolyn Gennari & Anya Ventura
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