Hypnosis & Belief

Some of you may remember a few years ago we were involved in the Con Art exhibition at Sheffield’s Site Gallery, including hosting exhibits here in The Lounge. We were pleased to hear that the Site Gallery is running a series of events all about ‘Magic and Technology’ this winter.

Tonight’s session (Thursday 8 November) is on Hypnosis and Belief with Sinead McDonald, Mark Pilkington and Nick Davies.

Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer  developed the “Universal Fluid” idea in the 18th Century. He was famous for using steel rods to cure patients, coining the term “Animal Magnetism”. A 1784 debunking panel said the cures were due to the imagination not to magnetism, but as Charles d’Eslon, a pupil of Mesmer said: “If the medicine of imagination is best, why should we not practice the medicine of imagination”.

Multimedia artist Sinead McDonald, hypnotherapist Nick Davies and editor/author Mark Pilkington come together for this vibrant evening of combined talks, performances and workshops. This event will be an interactive exploration of the potential of the unconscious mind, taking a look to the past to see how popular science has always gone hand-in-hand with belief. Does hypnosis work? How much have we really moved on from the historic ‘medicines of the imagination’?

Sinead McDonald will discuss how physical trauma has affected her perception and practice,  hypnotist Nick Davies will be doing some ‘rubber hand illusion’ type demos and talking about re-programming the brain, with Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press talking about weird medical devices past and present.

Strange Attractor Press, incidentally, recently published the fascinating book Lost Envoy: The Tarot Deck of Austin Osman Spare, edited by Jonathan Allen, co-curator of Con Art and an associate curator at The Magic Circle Museum, London.

This is one of a series of magic-related events. I’m particularly looking forward to Magic, Dance and Memory on Thursday 20 December:

Imagination is the door to identity. At least, that’s according to extraordinary scientist-artist performer team Nicola Clayton and Clive Wilkins. Over the course of this quirky and interactive evening, the pair will reveal why memory has evolved in the way that it has, incorporating magic, dance and scientific evidence. Nicky’s studies into animal behaviour shine light on the ways we think both with and without words, while artist and magician Clive questions aspects of consciousness, perception and reality through his myriad creative outputs. This lively event will incorporate live tango dancing, conjuring and plenty of opportunities for participation from you!


George - The Supreme Master of Magic, 1924 (detail). Courtesy Paul Kieve Collection

I’ve known Jonathan Allen for some years (along with his dark ‘gospel magician’ alter ego Tommy Angel) and always been fascinated by his investigations into the overlaps between magic, illusion and art. Many will remember the Con Art show in Sheffield, in which we played a small role, and the more recent Kalanag installation at the David Risley Gallery. (Check out Jonathan’s website for more information.)

His latest project, co-curated with arts writer Sally O’Reilly, is Magic Show. This is a Hayward Touring exhibition organised in collaboration with QUAD, Derby’s new centre for art and film. It runs at QUAD from 28 November to 31 January 2010. I urge anyone who has a serious interest in magic not to miss it. After the Derby show the exhibition embarks on a national tour to Blackpool, Carlisle, Cardiff and London.

For some, the idea of magic suggests fantasy and illusion, while for others it signals a licence to practise deception. Magic Show considers how art and magic often share common ground, and how contemporary artists may adopt the perception-shifting tactics of the theatrical magician to lead the viewer while exploring the power of suggestion itself.

It includes work by 24 international artists, with new commissions and performances, and an archive of historical magic posters, curious props and offbeat ephemera (a bit like The Magick Lounge then!). The exhibition demonstrates how art and magic both flourish in the gap between fact and fiction, where eyes may be misdirected, and considers the potential of trickery and illusion to creatively undermine logical thought. Artists include Zoe Beloff, Joan Brossa, Jackie and Denise Chapwoman, Tom Friedman, Christian Jankowski, Janice Kerbel, Juan Muñoz, Ian Saville and Suzanne Treister.

Among the artworks in the exhibition are the California-based Center for Tactical Magic’s Ultimate Jacket which has 50 pockets for optimum concealment and retrieval, which is probably even more than recent Lounge lecturer James Prince; Susan Hiller’s Homage to Yves Klein, which incorporates found photographs of people levitating – ranging from the low-tech sham to highly sophisticated ruse, and Failing to Levitate in the Studio, which documents Bruce Nauman’s similar attempts to get off the ground. Commissioned for selected venues during the tour of Magic Show, Sinta Werner’s site-specific installations mimic architectural features within the gallery to distort space and disorientate visitors.

Highlights of the archive section include Paul Kieve’s collection of historical posters from theatrical magic’s ‘Golden Era’ (c.1890-1930), which play up to the idea of the magician as a princely commander of unearthly forces or an ethereal woman with otherworldly powers; Tommy Cooper‘s Dippy Duck; and the personal scrapbook of British conjurer and socialite Stanley Collins, containing satirical cartoons of politicians as magicians that shape political realities.

QUAD, Market Place, Cathedral Quarter, Derby, DE1 3AS.
Open: 11:00am to 6:00pm daily (except Sunday opening at 12 noon).
Tel: 01332 290606 Admission: free.