Why Conjuring is the opposite of Magic (and why it matters)

I went to a very interesting presentation last night on Florian and Jörn’s forthcoming production at the Sophiensaele, Burmester & Feigl’s Hermetischer Garten at the Performer Stammtisch in Wedding.

When I read (not very carefully) that the night was to be about performance art and magic I made an assumption that the magic they meant was something in the direction of spirituality, ritual, sorcery, transformation and was surprised when they launched into a (very informative) discussion of the resonances between performance art and performance of magic tricks, the history of stage magic and conjuring. Many interesting lines of their research were shared: Houdini’s spiritualist debunking, Alan Moore (who says that magic is art) and the first modern conjurer and erstwhile clockmaker Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.

I realised something about myself last night, though: how much I hate stage magic or modern conjuring. It is entertaining enough and it is not like I have a revulsion for watching it but I do not seek it out because I despise its message, which I think can be paraphrased:

All these things that you think of as magic is really trickery

As a child I fell deeply in love with a world in which magic is possible and discovered (by children) in books like the Narnia series and Alan Garner’s The Owl Service and The Wierdstone of Brisingamen; a world where magic is behind a wardrobe door, under a hill or in the patterns of a set of crockery.

And here is the contradiction between these two ‘magics’, because what C.S. Lewis, Alan Garner and even arch-atheist Phillp Pullman allude to could be paraphrased as

All these things you think of as daily reality is really magic

…the opposite of what the David Blaine’s of this world are saying about the nature of the universe.

In this one word magic and its two divergent meanings, revealingly ‘disambiguated’ (a very contentious urge I would argue) by wikipedia as Magic (illusion) and Magic (paranormal), we have two completely different understandings of what reality is.

I know which universe I like to live in. Now where did I put that subtle knife?

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The Esoteric Interface

John Dee's scrying mirror

Even though being esoteric is not what David is attempting to do, I think, in designing the Soul Lines interface, the way he has made an interface that does not reveal itself all at once makes me think about describing such an interface as ‘esoteric’.

The term ‘esoteric interface’ arose for me when thinking about the resonance between what David has designed for the Android screen and the obsidian scrying mirror of Dr Dee, now in the British Museum.

What I value about this is the idea that an app that is an artwork rather than a utility might have to work slightly differently, and make this difference in its interface. This is a pretty bold move and testament to David’s commitment to the ideas behind the project which he has been enormously sensitive to.

What David has done for Soul Lines requires some level of commitment from the user to get beyond the frustration of not immediately knowing what to do. I think this is entirely appropriate for an app that deals with slowness and a sense of a walking ‘soul’; the transcendent, numinous or spiritual: these things should not reveal themselves too quickly.

Let’s see if the beta testers agree.

(You can also read this post on the Near Now Journal site)

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Drawinglife, the openFrameworks GPS visualisation application, open sourced

Three years after having that initial conversation about our work with Peter at an openFrameworks workshop, he has opensourced the visualisation animation application on github here.

Narrating Our Lines installation at Art Laboratory Berlin photo: plan b

Narrating Our Lines installation at Art Laboratory Berlin photo: plan b

What started out as an application to simply animate our GPS tracks (as used by us in Narrating Our Lines) has turned into a multi-purpose programme, which we have also used in the pieces in which we re-trace our GPS tracks as well as in the participatory works we have made in Birmingham and Leuven, bringing together and visualising a large number of individuals’ GPS tracks.

Dan and Soph re-tracing their GPS tracks for the exhibition Tracing Mobility at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin photo: plan b

Dan and Soph re-tracing their GPS tracks for the exhibition Tracing Mobility at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin

Thank you Peter, thank you openFrameworks and while we’re at it, thank you Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, my Mum, my Dad, Soph, Ruby etc…

Screenshot from A Day in the Life, the Walkers of Birmingham, a Fierce festival and Midlands Art Centre commission, using Peter Vasil’s Openframeworks application

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Resolving a wordpress ‘Broken Theme – template missing’ error in our new site

New site banner

I’ve been working on a new web site which will hold Soph and my more fine art based output and the outcomes of our GPS mapping work which is currently rather buried on the planbperformance site.

I’d love to hear what you think about it. I’m using WordPress as a CMS rather than a blog (which basically entails putting content on ‘pages’ rather than ‘posts’) with a modified Origami child theme (just a few font tweaks really).

Something to note when creating a child theme: if you copy something like the Origami header to modify for your child theme styles.css file watch out – the header has to contain the line

Template: twentytwelve

(replace ‘twentytwelve’ with the name of your parent template i.e. ‘origami’) If you do copy the header from the parent theme styles.css, it might not have this, resulting in WordPress throwing an error when you try and activate it in Appearance > Themes, like

The following themes are installed but incomplete. Themes must have a stylesheet and a template… Description: Template is missing.

I first thought this meant I had to copy some sort of php file from the parent theme to my child theme folder but it turned out I didn’t have the ‘Template: ‘ line in my style.css header.

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Missing Journeys

Chalk Travel Graph 2007-2012 plan b

Chalk Travel Graph 2007-2012 plan b

In making the graph above, showing all our journeys for the years 2007 – 2012 (D is Dan, S is Soph, numbers on the ‘y’ axis are thousands of km), I used a custom-written piece of python software which detects ‘gaps’ in our data and if they are above a certain threshold of km apart, logs them.

All well and good, I thought, until I talked to Soph who has done quite a lot of commuting in Berlin since 2012 as a result of her teaching job at the HZT in Wedding. She was interested in these ‘missing’ journeys and so I set about wondering whether I would abolish the threshold altogether and join every gap up. I was nervous about this and so I wanted to somehow ‘see’ it to check it which gave me the idea to generate lines held in a custom table in our spatialite database which would join everything up. I could then do the analysis from there.

2012 Soph Berlin With Missing Journeys in Blue plan b

2012 Soph Berlin With Missing Journeys in Blue plan b

I found this so seductive, I wanted to share it. I’ve yet to analyse the data to find out whether results such as the amount of missing kilometres makes sense (although I’m not sure what I’d test this against) but I find it an interesting exercise already.

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