Category Archives: magic

Alchemy. The Great Art

In medieval Europe, alchemy was the Ars magna, the ‘Great Art’.


Sarah Schönfeld, All you can feel, Crystal Meth (Planets), photo-pharmaceutical series 2013. Crystal Meth on photo-negative, enlarged as c-print


Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Alchemy. The Great Art, a show which will close this Sunday at Berlin’s Kulturforum (i’m writing this post in a hurry in the hope that some of you might still catch it) explores the enduring relationship between alchemy and art. The alliance between the two fields is an intimate one: both art and alchemy are about creation, both rely on experimentation, knowledge-seeking and passion.

Mixing historical artefacts and contemporary artworks, the exhibition also rehabilitates alchemical practices and illuminates their legacy. We often dismiss alchemy as a charlatan pseudo-science which sole purpose was chrysopoeia (the making of gold.) Most of its adepts had a very modern pursuit though: they wanted to imitate the divine act of creation itself and even to surpass it. This drive to transmute existing matter into a man-made compounds still influences many artists (and scientists) today, especially the ones whose work investigates processual transformation of material.

The parallels between the old-time practice and contemporary life do not end there. The need to mine the alchemical “first matter” (prima materia) from below ground echoes our ‘extractivist’ society. As for the creatures of doctors Faustus and Frankenstein and the disquieting new forms of life elaborated in research laboratories, they are the scions of the homunculus, this tiny human being grown in a glass jar and depicted in medieval manuscripts.

While searching for the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of immortality or the panacea, some experimenters made – sometimes by chance – discoveries that paved the way for modern chemistry and pharmacology. The by-products of alchemists’ exercises, such as porcelain, gold-ruby glass and phosphorus, are still very much valued today.

Alchemy. The Great Art manages to pack the historical, the spiritual, the hocus-pocus and the protoscience dimensions of alchemy into a rich and fascinating show. My pitiful article, however, doesn’t have the ambition to cover the multiple perspectives on alchemy presented at Kunstforum. It will mostly look at a few artworks i discovered while visiting the show:


Sarah Schönfeld, Hero’s Journey (Lamp), 2014. © Sarah Schönfeld


Sarah Schönfeld, Hero’s Journey (Lamp), 2014. © Sarah Schönfeld. Photo via tissue magazine

One of the focal points of the exhibition is Sarah Schönfeld‘s Hero’s Journey (Lamp). Over a period of ten weeks, the artist asked partygoers of Berghain, allegedly Berlin’s most exclusive nightclub, to donate their urine. She then treated the yellow liquid with an antimicrobial agent often used as a preservative in the cosmetic industry.

The biological excretions are now contained inside an illuminated glass case. The urine shines like gold and constitutes a kind of monument to the club’s mythical status as well as to the ecstatic emotions induced by recreational drugs.


Sarah Schönfeld, Adrenaline – Adrenaline on photonegative analogue, enlarged. From the All you can feel series


Sarah Schönfeld, MDMA on photonegative analogue, enlarged. From the All you can feel series

For the All You Can Feel photo series, Schönfeld developed a process that she calls “modern alchemy.” She sprinkled all sorts of mind-altering substances, from caffeine to neurotransmitters, onto photo negatives. The results of the chemical reactions between the negative’s emulsion and the drug was then submitted to photographic process.

When asked by VICE how she managed to create images that match so adequately the feeling that these various drugs impart, the artist answered:

Well, I didn’t think that when I first produced the work, but after I published the book (also called All You Can Feel) a lot of people said yes, this is how it feels. And what was really interesting is that I got a call from a drug rehabilitation center and they said that they had run their own little experiment. Without explaining the images, they had shown the book to their patients and asked them to pick a favorite. Every single one of them chose their drug of dependence, with 100 percent accuracy. Even the secretary who only ever drank coffee chose caffeine.


Heinz Hajek-Halke, Untitled, 1950-1970. © Heinz Hajek-Halke / Collection Michael Ruetz / Agentur Focus

It was particularly interested in the suggestion that photography, an artistic discipline born out of darkrooms and chemical laboratory experiments, used to be surrounded by an alchemical aura. Schönfeld’s work evoke photograms, the photographic image made without a camera by placing objects directly onto light-sensitive paper which is then exposed to light. There were some beautiful examples of photograms by Walter Ziegler in the show but i can’t find any image of them online, alas!

Heinz Hajek-Halke also experimented with photographic processes, exposures, instruments and materials. To create his “colour lucidograms” series, he drizzled soot-blackened glass negatives with liquids such as turpentine to produce craquelure-like patterns as the original congealed.

Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Der Lauf Der Dinge/The Way Things Go, 1987

Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go) is a famous video that follows a 30 minute long, uninterrupted chain of physical and chemical experiments full of carefully prepared explosions, accidents, fires, etc.


The Ripley Scroll, 18th century (Mellon MS 41, Beinecke Library). Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


The ‘Ripley Scrowle’ (detail), 18th century. Image: Beinecke Library


The ‘Ripley Scrowle’ (detail), 18th century. Image: Beinecke Library

The copy of the Ripley Scroll i saw at Kulturforum is one of the most exquisite artifacts i’ve seen this year.

There are some twenty copies of these alchemical scrolls in existence. Each of them is a variation on a lost 15th century original. The manuscripts use pictorial cryptograms to detail the various processes involved in the preparation of the philosopher’s stone.

Although they are named after the English priest, author and alchemist George Ripley, there is no evidence that he designed them himself. The link with the alchemist is that the elaborate imagery of the emblems derives from his verses.


Traité de Chymie, France, circa 1700, S. 10/11. © The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

This watercolor shows that many early alchemists used instruments similar to the ones pharmacists or chemists would use later.


Natascha Sonnenschein, Paradies der Künstlichkeit, 2001. © Natascha Sonnenschein / VG Bild- Kunst, Bonn 2017


Facettierte Deckelflasche mit Montierung, circa 1700. © bpk / Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


Sigismund Bacstrom, Device for Distilling Lunar Humidity, 1797


Johann Friedrich Böttger, Gold- and Silver nuggets, circa 1713. © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Porzellansammlung. Photo: Hans-Peter Klut, Elke Estel

One gold, one silver nuggets, allegedly transmuted by Johann Friedrich Boettger for King August of Poland in 1713. Boettger probably made them from ducats to win the King’s favour.


Louis-Jacques Goussier: Chymie, Laboratoire et Table des Rapports, in: Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie, 1771. © bpk / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek. Photo: Dietmar Katz


Yves Klein, Anthropometrie in IKB on Monogold, 1965 (exhibition poster), Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Paris. © Yves Klein / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

More views of the exhibition space:


Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Alchemy. The Great Art, an exhibition curated by Jörg Völlnagel, remains open until Sunday 23 July at Kulturforum in Berlin.

Previously: The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History and Artefact: are technology and magical thinking really incompatible?, From swarms of synthetic life forms to neo-alchemy. An interview with Adam Brown.

Alchemy. The Great Art

In medieval Europe, alchemy was the Ars magna, the ‘Great Art’.


Sarah Schönfeld, All you can feel, Crystal Meth (Planets), photo-pharmaceutical series 2013. Crystal Meth on photo-negative, enlarged as c-print


Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Alchemy. The Great Art, a show which will close this Sunday at Berlin’s Kulturforum (i’m writing this post in a hurry in the hope that some of you might still catch it) explores the enduring relationship between alchemy and art. The alliance between the two fields is an intimate one: both art and alchemy are about creation, both rely on experimentation, knowledge-seeking and passion.

Mixing historical artefacts and contemporary artworks, the exhibition also rehabilitates alchemical practices and illuminates their legacy. We often dismiss alchemy as a charlatan pseudo-science which sole purpose was chrysopoeia (the making of gold.) Most of its adepts had a very modern pursuit though: they wanted to imitate the divine act of creation itself and even to surpass it. This drive to transmute existing matter into a man-made compounds still influences many artists (and scientists) today, especially the ones whose work investigates processual transformation of material.

The parallels between the old-time practice and contemporary life do not end there. The need to mine the alchemical “first matter” (prima materia) from below ground echoes our ‘extractivist’ society. As for the creatures of doctors Faustus and Frankenstein and the disquieting new forms of life elaborated in research laboratories, they are the scions of the homunculus, this tiny human being grown in a glass jar and depicted in medieval manuscripts.

While searching for the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of immortality or the panacea, some experimenters made – sometimes by chance – discoveries that paved the way for modern chemistry and pharmacology. The by-products of alchemists’ exercises, such as porcelain, gold-ruby glass and phosphorus, are still very much valued today.

Alchemy. The Great Art manages to pack the historical, the spiritual, the hocus-pocus and the protoscience dimensions of alchemy into a rich and fascinating show. My pitiful article, however, doesn’t have the ambition to cover the multiple perspectives on alchemy presented at Kunstforum. It will mostly look at a few artworks i discovered while visiting the show:


Sarah Schönfeld, Hero’s Journey (Lamp), 2014. © Sarah Schönfeld


Sarah Schönfeld, Hero’s Journey (Lamp), 2014. © Sarah Schönfeld. Photo via tissue magazine

One of the focal points of the exhibition is Sarah Schönfeld‘s Hero’s Journey (Lamp). Over a period of ten weeks, the artist asked partygoers of Berghain, allegedly Berlin’s most exclusive nightclub, to donate their urine. She then treated the yellow liquid with an antimicrobial agent often used as a preservative in the cosmetic industry.

The biological excretions are now contained inside an illuminated glass case. The urine shines like gold and constitutes a kind of monument to the club’s mythical status as well as to the ecstatic emotions induced by recreational drugs.


Sarah Schönfeld, Adrenaline – Adrenaline on photonegative analogue, enlarged. From the All you can feel series


Sarah Schönfeld, MDMA on photonegative analogue, enlarged. From the All you can feel series

For the All You Can Feel photo series, Schönfeld developed a process that she calls “modern alchemy.” She sprinkled all sorts of mind-altering substances, from caffeine to neurotransmitters, onto photo negatives. The results of the chemical reactions between the negative’s emulsion and the drug was then submitted to photographic process.

When asked by VICE how she managed to create images that match so adequately the feeling that these various drugs impart, the artist answered:

Well, I didn’t think that when I first produced the work, but after I published the book (also called All You Can Feel) a lot of people said yes, this is how it feels. And what was really interesting is that I got a call from a drug rehabilitation center and they said that they had run their own little experiment. Without explaining the images, they had shown the book to their patients and asked them to pick a favorite. Every single one of them chose their drug of dependence, with 100 percent accuracy. Even the secretary who only ever drank coffee chose caffeine.


Heinz Hajek-Halke, Untitled, 1950-1970. © Heinz Hajek-Halke / Collection Michael Ruetz / Agentur Focus

It was particularly interested in the suggestion that photography, an artistic discipline born out of darkrooms and chemical laboratory experiments, used to be surrounded by an alchemical aura. Schönfeld’s work evoke photograms, the photographic image made without a camera by placing objects directly onto light-sensitive paper which is then exposed to light. There were some beautiful examples of photograms by Walter Ziegler in the show but i can’t find any image of them online, alas!

Heinz Hajek-Halke also experimented with photographic processes, exposures, instruments and materials. To create his “colour lucidograms” series, he drizzled soot-blackened glass negatives with liquids such as turpentine to produce craquelure-like patterns as the original congealed.

Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Der Lauf Der Dinge/The Way Things Go, 1987

Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go) is a famous video that follows a 30 minute long, uninterrupted chain of physical and chemical experiments full of carefully prepared explosions, accidents, fires, etc.


The Ripley Scroll, 18th century (Mellon MS 41, Beinecke Library). Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


The ‘Ripley Scrowle’ (detail), 18th century. Image: Beinecke Library


The ‘Ripley Scrowle’ (detail), 18th century. Image: Beinecke Library

The copy of the Ripley Scroll i saw at Kulturforum is one of the most exquisite artifacts i’ve seen this year.

There are some twenty copies of these alchemical scrolls in existence. Each of them is a variation on a lost 15th century original. The manuscripts use pictorial cryptograms to detail the various processes involved in the preparation of the philosopher’s stone.

Although they are named after the English priest, author and alchemist George Ripley, there is no evidence that he designed them himself. The link with the alchemist is that the elaborate imagery of the emblems derives from his verses.


Traité de Chymie, France, circa 1700, S. 10/11. © The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

This watercolor shows that many early alchemists used instruments similar to the ones pharmacists or chemists would use later.


Natascha Sonnenschein, Paradies der Künstlichkeit, 2001. © Natascha Sonnenschein / VG Bild- Kunst, Bonn 2017


Facettierte Deckelflasche mit Montierung, circa 1700. © bpk / Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


Sigismund Bacstrom, Device for Distilling Lunar Humidity, 1797


Johann Friedrich Böttger, Gold- and Silver nuggets, circa 1713. © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Porzellansammlung. Photo: Hans-Peter Klut, Elke Estel

One gold, one silver nuggets, allegedly transmuted by Johann Friedrich Boettger for King August of Poland in 1713. Boettger probably made them from ducats to win the King’s favour.


Louis-Jacques Goussier: Chymie, Laboratoire et Table des Rapports, in: Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie, 1771. © bpk / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek. Photo: Dietmar Katz


Yves Klein, Anthropometrie in IKB on Monogold, 1965 (exhibition poster), Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Paris. © Yves Klein / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

More views of the exhibition space:


Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


Alchemie. Die Große Kunst/Alchemy. The Great Art (exhibition view.) © Photo: David von Becker for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Alchemy. The Great Art, an exhibition curated by Jörg Völlnagel, remains open until Sunday 23 July at Kulturforum in Berlin.

Previously: The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History and Artefact: are technology and magical thinking really incompatible?, From swarms of synthetic life forms to neo-alchemy. An interview with Adam Brown.

Artefact: are technology and magical thinking really incompatible?

Final chapter of my report from the Artefact festival which is closing tonight at STUK in Leuven (this way for the previous posts, ladies and gentlemen —> Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Artefact festival: Magic and politics.)


Suzanne Treister, Cybernetic Séance (MACY CONFERENCES ATTENDEES), 2011


Troika, Squaring the circle, 2013 + Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

This year, the event looked at magic, its meaning, reach and role in contemporary culture and society. The topic was analyzed through various lenses: entertainment, politics, finance, technology, etc.

The relationship between technology and magic is a particularly puzzling and interesting one. You’d think that progress in science and technology would automatically mark the demise of our interest for magical thinking and occult forms of knowledge. Far from it. It seems that humans have an inherent need to leave some space in their world for the unaccountable and the supernatural. That’s why progresses in science and technology have often been accompanied by the arrival or renewal of paranormal phenomena. The advent of photography, for example, saw a rise in the popularity of spiritism and photography was even used as a proof that ghosts and other spiritual entities did indeed exist.

A series of artists in the festival present work that explore these complex connections between magic and technology/science. Some built machines that question our firmest beliefs in technology, other probe alchemy or look to quantum theory to make us query our own understanding of the world. Whether or not you believe in Arthur C. Clarke’s third law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic), the Artefact exhibition gives you plenty of opportunity to ponder upon it.


Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015

In Western European paintings from the 16th and 17th century, soap bubbles were used as a metaphor for the transience of the moment and the fragility of life.

With The Long Now, Verena Friedrich turns the famous vanitas motif into a symbol of the artificial prolongation of life made possible by science and technology. At the core of the installation is a magical machine that defies the laws of physics such as surface tension and gravity and keeps soap bubbles in suspension for as long as possible.

The mechanism slowly creates and releases a perfect, fat bubble into a controlled atmosphere chamber. The bubble is kept floating inside the plexiglass cube for much longer than the laws of nature would normally allow. The bubble will eventually burst and the process will start all over again, demonstrating that technology’s control over ephemeral life is not as infinite as we would like to believe.


BCL, Ghost in the cell, 2016 + Jonathan Allen, Magic Shop, 2002. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Hatsune Miku started her life as a vocaloid, a voice synthesis computer program. The anime character has reached iconic status in both Otaku and mainstream culture. She has been featured in J-pop music videos, games, starred in mangas, an opera, concerts, was invited to the David Letterman show and was materialized as figurine. She is a new kind of semi-living entity that blurs the space between idols made of flesh and idols made of pixels.

In Ghost in the Cell, the virtual superstar Hatsune Miku is given an organic dimension.

The artist collective BCL created a synthetic genome of the character, based on an average Japanese female genome. From this synthetic genome some relevant parts were biologically synthesised and inserted into human induced pluripotent stem cells (also known as iPS cells or iPSCs), which were then differentiated into beating heart cells. These cells stand as a pars pro toto for her heart, her whole physical body.


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016 (a newly commissioned work by STUK-KU Leuven coproduction, with the support of STRP). Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

The Finite State Fantasia visualizes the space mapping behaviour of a smart, but invisible, machine. The machine moves erratically around the exhibition room, using its sensors to measure distance and bumping into obstacles (some of them temporary) to progressively build a model of the space.

Visitors can only apprehend the existence of the machine through the representation of its senses; its flickering infrared trails and ultrasonic locators that are projected on the walls of the space.

It’s a surprisingly moving spectacle. You suddenly come to realize that, just like us, machines depend on a limited set of information to experience the world. However, they often rely on different tools and respond to different stimuli than us in order to perceive their surroundings. As a result, we are left as disoriented as the invisible robot when we try and interpret the lights on the wall in order to guess its location.

“The Finite State Fantasia draws out the dissonance between the ‘magic’ of technology and the technical reality by showing us how the trick is done while simultaneously re-representing the seemingly supernatural machine sensorium.”


Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

All Colours White consists of a mechanism which projects red, blue and green light onto a canvas sculpture. The colours slowly bleed into each other, creating a spectrum until their amalgamation results in pure white light.

“All Colours White lays bare the technology and invites the curious viewer to consider the idea that understanding and enchantment can exist in the same universe.”

More works from the exhibition:


Jens Brand, Disappearance of Media, Manifestation of Elephants, 2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jens Brand, Disappearance of Media, Manifestation of Elephants, 2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Witches Cradles, 2009. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Witches Cradles, 2009. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Femke Herregraven, Subsecond Flocks, 2016 + Femke Herregraven, Rogue Waves, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Femke Herregraven, Subsecond Flocks, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tim Etchells, Mirror Pieces, 2014. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tim Etchells, Mirror Pieces, 2014. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Suzanne Treister, HEXEN 2.0, TAROT CARDS, 2009-2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Suzanne Treister, HEXEN 2.0, HISTORICAL DIAGRAMS, 2009-2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jonathan Allen, Twenty First Century Silks, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Marjolijn Dijkman, Cultivating Probability, 2015 + Dijkman, In Our Hands, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Marjolijn Dijkman, Cultivating Probability, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jonathan Allen, Magic Shop, 2002. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Artefact : The Act of Magic is at STUK – House for Dance, Image & Sound, in Leuven, Belgium until 9 March 2017. The exhibition was curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33.

Also part of the show: Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Artefact festival: Magic and politics.
Previousy: The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History, HEXEN 2.0 and Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic.

More installation views of the exhibition Artefact : The Act of Magic. And yet another quick demo on my flickr album that i am indeed the worst photographer in the world.

Photo on the homepage by Victor S. Brigola: Verena Friedrich, The Long Now.

Artefact festival: Magic and politics


The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, 2009


The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception 2009. Image via Gizmodo

During the Cold War, the CIA paid magician John Mulholland $3,000 to write a manual on misdirection, concealment and deceit. The manual teaches spies how to surreptitiously slip powder into someone’s drink, send messages with their shoelaces, steal documents, etc. In true spy fashion, the text was supposed to have been destroyed in 1973. It was however recovered, declassified, and reprinted a few years ago under the title The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.

Mulholland was not the first magician who put his skills at the service of governments. The famous Harry Houdini used his career as a cover and worked as a spy for the American and British governments. As for stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, he is remembered nowadays for his collaboration with British military intelligence during the Second World War when he elaborated all kinds of ruses and illusions to deceive the German troops.

PBS, The Ghost Army trailer, 2013


A halftrack with a 500 speaker mounted on the back for sonic deception. Image National Archive via Chicago Tonight

Around the same time, the U.S. set up the Ghost Army, an elite force whose specialty consisted in “tactical deception.” Its soldiers were recruited from art schools and ad agencies and given the mission to create visual decoys such as rubber airplanes and inflatable tanks, sonic deception and fake radio transmissions to fool the enemy into thinking that the allies troops, weaponry and infrastructures were far more formidable then they were in reality.

All these stories are of course entertaining but they also demonstrate that magic, because of the way it can deceive, confuse and manipulate is a powerful art that can be applied beyond the stage. Magic is an ambiguous and wide-ranging concept that sits at the intersection of science, spirituality and politics. It can be used to unsettle, misinform, divert the attention or even to put a veil over and make more opaque and inscrutable the complex structures that control us.


Hollington & Kyprianou, Gladiator, 2016 (Artefact commission.) Digital composite using ITN news archive

This year, the Artefact festival at STUK in Leuven (Belgium) is looking closely at magic and the role it plays in politics, finance, the military, technology and more generally in society.

The artists in The Act of Magic shed light on the way in which magic and the magical has permeated all layers of our everyday life. From poetry to activist strategy, from magical object to black box, from benign illusion to deception and manipulation, from New Age self-help advertisement to spiritual vision: the artworks throughout the exhibition incite magical thinking and reveal a passage to another world.

Artefact: The Act of Magic is a joyful, thought-provoking and intelligent festival. I expected razzle-dazzle, hocus-pocus and charming artifices. I certainly found some of that across the exhibition space but i also encountered a series of artworks that explore and demystify offshore constructions, high frequency trading algorithms, political ploys and other black boxes that keep the secrets of power away from society. I’ll focus on some of these work in this first report from the festival. The first one is from one of my favourite artistic duos:


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2015-2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

For the past ten years, Goldin+Senneby have been studying the economic and financial world to master its strategies and bring its shadier businesses into public discussions.

For Zero Magic, the artist infiltrated a hedge fund in the US, reverse engineered its methods and recreated its short selling practices.

In finance, ‘short selling refers to the practice of selling something you do not own. Making a profit of it if and when the target company looses in value. Successful short sellers commonly trade in the narratives of failure, fraud and corruption, since dire findings and rumours are what help realize their short positions. Just like magicians, short sellers make a living by ‘adjusting’ people’s perception of reality, making them see things that don’t exist.

In collaboration with the magician Malin Nilsson and finance sociologist Théo Bourgeron, Goldin+Senneby developed and patented a magic trick for the financial markets that has the capacity to undermine the perceived value of a publicly traded company and to profit from this. The magic gimmick consists in a computer program that help non-experts identify suitable short selling targets, and a step-by-step guide to undermining their perceived value and executing thus a successful short sale.


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016. Magic box. Installation view: Stockholm School of Economics

Goldin+Senneby put the Zero Magic computer software inside a magic box that also contains a US Patent Application for Computer Assisted Magic Trick Executed in the Financial Markets and four historical examples of magic tricks played out offstage, in real life. One of them is the ‘Light and Heavy Chest’ trick performed in the 19th century by magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin and used in colonial Algeria as a demonstration of European superiority.

The work was first presented as part of a magic show in Helsinki in 2015 and, according to the artists, it realized a 64.7% profit for the members of the audience who had participated in the experiment by buying special tickets.


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Performance and two-channel video, 10 minutes, Lisson Gallery, London, UK

Liz Magic Laser worked with dancer Ariel Freedman to adapt oratorical gestures from speeches made by politicians from various countries. A video of the performance made at the Lisson gallery in London is screened at STUK. Next to it, a teleprompter displays the corresponding script delivered by the politician mimicked. The isolation of expressive gestures is mesmerizing. Even if you pay no attention to the text, you can’t help but be seduced by the movements and rhythms of the body. You also gradually come to realize that, as soon as they step on their speaking platforms, world leaders behave and appear like magicians selling their illusions to the public.

Center for Tactical Magic, Linking & Unlinking, 2009

The Center for Tactical Magic, an activist art collective that uses the many guises and functions of magic to challenge existing power structures, had several works in the exhibition. One of them was the Linking & Unlinking video. Initially designed to be displayed on a digital billboard in New York after the city had implemented the stop-and-frisk policy, the short film combines 3 different source materials: found footage demonstrating how to pick locks to free yourself from handcuffs; found footage of professional and amateur magicians performing the classic magical escape trick, “the linking rings” (a.k.a. “ninja rings”); and, a rolling text of “Know Your Rights” information from the American Civil Liberties Union explaining what your rights are if you are stopped by the police.


Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys, 2017. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys (detail), 2017

Universal Keys, an installation especially made for Artefact: The Act of Magic, is the perfect companion for Linking & Unlinking because of the way it exposes the competing illusions of liberty and law. Thousands of “universal” handcuff keys hang on a wall in a formation that evokes two interlocking links. Visitors are invited to take a key for personal use.

According to Aaron Gach, founder of the Center for Tactical Magic, the work explores the illusion of control and liberation. This illusion was at the forefront of the escape acts popularized by Houdini and other magicians. Handcuff escapes are particularly appealing to people seeking their own release from authoritarian control. As the artist explains:

Offering visitors their own handcuff key invites the potential for accomplishing their own self-liberation. Although it is completely legal to purchase, own, and carry a handcuff key in most countries, possession of such a key is also sure to invite scrutiny.

Similarly, notions of security and threat are seen as linked to our collective desires for freedom and safety as they form two parts of the same illusion. Does possession of a universal key truly enable the beholder? Or, does it simply make visible the material strengths and weaknesses of state power? In what context might such a key open up new possibilities for understanding power relations? Ultimately, these are questions to be answered by those who hold the keys.


CIA, The Ghost Army + Jonathan Allen, Levitating The Pentagon. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Abby Hoffman and friends attempt to levitate the Pentagon. From the University of California, via Unredacted

Exorcising the Evil Spirits from the Pentagon, by The Fugs

The festival has a room dedicated to historical films that explore the connections between the military and the magical. One of these films is The Ghost Army mentioned above. The other one recounts The Levitation of the Pentagon.

On 21 October 1967, activist Abbie Hoffman, poet Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders of the band The Fugs devised an exorcism ritual as part of the ongoing protests of the Vietnam War. They organized a ‘magical’ happening called Levitating the Pentagon. The activists even attempted to secure a permit beforehand, asking for the authorization to elevate the HQ of the U.S. Department of Defense 300 feet (almost a meter) in the air. They were granted 3 feet. Together with thousands of demonstrators, they joined hands and meditated around the Pentagon while chanting Aramaic exorcism rites. They announced that they would use ‘psychic energy’ to make the building float above the ground and vibrate until all of its war-loving demons spilled out of it. The Pentagon never did rise nor vibrate (in case you were wondering.)

However, the wacky action demonstrated that playful energy, magic and ‘secret’ insights are not the appanage of the political or military elite. They can also be harnessed by citizens to achieve political ends, greater public debate and manipulation of corporate media techniques.

Artefact : The Act of Magic is at STUK – House for Dance, Image & Sound, in Leuven, Belgium until 9 March 2017. The exhibition was curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33.

Previously: Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic.
More installation views of the exhibition Artefact : The Act of Magic. I also have a crappy flickr album.
Photo on the homepage: Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013, via Lisson Gallery.

Artefact festival: Magic and politics


The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, 2009


The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception 2009. Image via Gizmodo

During the Cold War, the CIA paid magician John Mulholland $3,000 to write a manual on misdirection, concealment and deceit. The manual teaches spies how to surreptitiously slip powder into someone’s drink, send messages with their shoelaces, steal documents, etc. In true spy fashion, the text was supposed to have been destroyed in 1973. It was however recovered, declassified, and reprinted a few years ago under the title The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.

Mulholland was not the first magician who put his skills at the service of governments. The famous Harry Houdini used his career as a cover and worked as a spy for the American and British governments. As for stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, he is remembered nowadays for his collaboration with British military intelligence during the Second World War when he elaborated all kinds of ruses and illusions to deceive the German troops.

PBS, The Ghost Army trailer, 2013


A halftrack with a 500 speaker mounted on the back for sonic deception. Image National Archive via Chicago Tonight

Around the same time, the U.S. set up the Ghost Army, an elite force whose specialty consisted in “tactical deception.” Its soldiers were recruited from art schools and ad agencies and given the mission to create visual decoys such as rubber airplanes and inflatable tanks, sonic deception and fake radio transmissions to fool the enemy into thinking that the allies troops, weaponry and infrastructures were far more formidable then they were in reality.

All these stories are of course entertaining but they also demonstrate that magic, because of the way it can deceive, confuse and manipulate is a powerful art that can be applied beyond the stage. Magic is an ambiguous and wide-ranging concept that sits at the intersection of science, spirituality and politics. It can be used to unsettle, misinform, divert the attention or even to put a veil over and make more opaque and inscrutable the complex structures that control us.


Hollington & Kyprianou, Gladiator, 2016 (Artefact commission.) Digital composite using ITN news archive

This year, the Artefact festival at STUK in Leuven (Belgium) is looking closely at magic and the role it plays in politics, finance, the military, technology and more generally in society.

The artists in The Act of Magic shed light on the way in which magic and the magical has permeated all layers of our everyday life. From poetry to activist strategy, from magical object to black box, from benign illusion to deception and manipulation, from New Age self-help advertisement to spiritual vision: the artworks throughout the exhibition incite magical thinking and reveal a passage to another world.

Artefact: The Act of Magic is a joyful, thought-provoking and intelligent festival. I expected razzle-dazzle, hocus-pocus and charming artifices. I certainly found some of that across the exhibition space but i also encountered a series of artworks that explore and demystify offshore constructions, high frequency trading algorithms, political ploys and other black boxes that keep the secrets of power away from society. I’ll focus on some of these work in this first report from the festival. The first one is from one of my favourite artistic duos:


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2015-2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

For the past ten years, Goldin+Senneby have been studying the economic and financial world to master its strategies and bring its shadier businesses into public discussions.

For Zero Magic, the artist infiltrated a hedge fund in the US, reverse engineered its methods and recreated its short selling practices.

In finance, ‘short selling refers to the practice of selling something you do not own. Making a profit of it if and when the target company looses in value. Successful short sellers commonly trade in the narratives of failure, fraud and corruption, since dire findings and rumours are what help realize their short positions. Just like magicians, short sellers make a living by ‘adjusting’ people’s perception of reality, making them see things that don’t exist.

In collaboration with the magician Malin Nilsson and finance sociologist Théo Bourgeron, Goldin+Senneby developed and patented a magic trick for the financial markets that has the capacity to undermine the perceived value of a publicly traded company and to profit from this. The magic gimmick consists in a computer program that help non-experts identify suitable short selling targets, and a step-by-step guide to undermining their perceived value and executing thus a successful short sale.


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016. Magic box. Installation view: Stockholm School of Economics

Goldin+Senneby put the Zero Magic computer software inside a magic box that also contains a US Patent Application for Computer Assisted Magic Trick Executed in the Financial Markets and four historical examples of magic tricks played out offstage, in real life. One of them is the ‘Light and Heavy Chest’ trick performed in the 19th century by magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin and used in colonial Algeria as a demonstration of European superiority.

The work was first presented as part of a magic show in Helsinki in 2015 and, according to the artists, it realized a 64.7% profit for the members of the audience who had participated in the experiment by buying special tickets.


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Performance and two-channel video, 10 minutes, Lisson Gallery, London, UK

Liz Magic Laser worked with dancer Ariel Freedman to adapt oratorical gestures from speeches made by politicians from various countries. A video of the performance made at the Lisson gallery in London is screened at STUK. Next to it, a teleprompter displays the corresponding script delivered by the politician mimicked. The isolation of expressive gestures is mesmerizing. Even if you pay no attention to the text, you can’t help but be seduced by the movements and rhythms of the body. You also gradually come to realize that, as soon as they step on their speaking platforms, world leaders behave and appear like magicians selling their illusions to the public.

Center for Tactical Magic, Linking & Unlinking, 2009

The Center for Tactical Magic, an activist art collective that uses the many guises and functions of magic to challenge existing power structures, had several works in the exhibition. One of them was the Linking & Unlinking video. Initially designed to be displayed on a digital billboard in New York after the city had implemented the stop-and-frisk policy, the short film combines 3 different source materials: found footage demonstrating how to pick locks to free yourself from handcuffs; found footage of professional and amateur magicians performing the classic magical escape trick, “the linking rings” (a.k.a. “ninja rings”); and, a rolling text of “Know Your Rights” information from the American Civil Liberties Union explaining what your rights are if you are stopped by the police.


Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys, 2017. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys (detail), 2017

Universal Keys, an installation especially made for Artefact: The Act of Magic, is the perfect companion for Linking & Unlinking because of the way it exposes the competing illusions of liberty and law. Thousands of “universal” handcuff keys hang on a wall in a formation that evokes two interlocking links. Visitors are invited to take a key for personal use.

According to Aaron Gach, founder of the Center for Tactical Magic, the work explores the illusion of control and liberation. This illusion was at the forefront of the escape acts popularized by Houdini and other magicians. Handcuff escapes are particularly appealing to people seeking their own release from authoritarian control. As the artist explains:

Offering visitors their own handcuff key invites the potential for accomplishing their own self-liberation. Although it is completely legal to purchase, own, and carry a handcuff key in most countries, possession of such a key is also sure to invite scrutiny.

Similarly, notions of security and threat are seen as linked to our collective desires for freedom and safety as they form two parts of the same illusion. Does possession of a universal key truly enable the beholder? Or, does it simply make visible the material strengths and weaknesses of state power? In what context might such a key open up new possibilities for understanding power relations? Ultimately, these are questions to be answered by those who hold the keys.


CIA, The Ghost Army + Jonathan Allen, Levitating The Pentagon. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Abby Hoffman and friends attempt to levitate the Pentagon. From the University of California, via Unredacted

Exorcising the Evil Spirits from the Pentagon, by The Fugs

The festival has a room dedicated to historical films that explore the connections between the military and the magical. One of these films is The Ghost Army mentioned above. The other one recounts The Levitation of the Pentagon.

On 21 October 1967, activist Abbie Hoffman, poet Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders of the band The Fugs devised an exorcism ritual as part of the ongoing protests of the Vietnam War. They organized a ‘magical’ happening called Levitating the Pentagon. The activists even attempted to secure a permit beforehand, asking for the authorization to elevate the HQ of the U.S. Department of Defense 300 feet (almost a meter) in the air. They were granted 3 feet. Together with thousands of demonstrators, they joined hands and meditated around the Pentagon while chanting Aramaic exorcism rites. They announced that they would use ‘psychic energy’ to make the building float above the ground and vibrate until all of its war-loving demons spilled out of it. The Pentagon never did rise nor vibrate (in case you were wondering.)

However, the wacky action demonstrated that playful energy, magic and ‘secret’ insights are not the appanage of the political or military elite. They can also be harnessed by citizens to achieve political ends, greater public debate and manipulation of corporate media techniques.

Artefact : The Act of Magic is at STUK – House for Dance, Image & Sound, in Leuven, Belgium until 9 March 2017. The exhibition was curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33.

Previously: Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic.
More installation views of the exhibition Artefact : The Act of Magic. I also have a crappy flickr album.
Photo on the homepage: Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013, via Lisson Gallery.

Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine


RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

As early as the 1st century, Jews believed that the Torah and other key religious texts contained encoded truths and hidden meanings. They used a system called Gematria to uncover them. According to this numerological system, each Hebrew letter also corresponds to a number (for example: 1 is Aleph, 2 is Bet, 3 is Gimel, 4 is Daleth, etc.) Kabbalists extended the method to other texts and, by converting letters to numbers, they looked for a hidden meaning in each word. Other hermeneutic techniques used by the Kabbalah are Temurah, which rearrange words and sentences to deduce deeper spiritual meanings, and Notarikon which creates words from letters taken from the beginning, middle, or end of words.


RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

The French collective RYBN.org has applied this numerological system of transformations, associations and substitutions to computing. Their Dataghost 2 installation is a kabbalistic computational machine that seeks to reveal the hidden messages buried within the data traffic.

A daemon, installed on a server, catches all incoming and outgoing digital communications, and dumps their content using network interception tools. All the encapsulated data are then submitted to several decyphering algorithms, reproducing the hermeneutic techniques of Kabbalah. The raw data are decomposed and recomposed according to the substitution principles that govern the Kabbalah, in order to unveil the mystic of network communications.

By following the kabbalistic alpha-numerical system, the fragments of codes generate in the process millions of shell commands, most of them incoherent or nonfunctional. However, from time to time, the commands will ‘make sense’ to the computer. The machine will interpret them as tasks that needs to be executed. At this precise moment, the machine achieves the invocation ritual of a digital Golem.

However, there is no way to predict where the ritual might lead the machine: the executed commands might saturate the memory capacity of the machine, provoke a definitive stop within the software layer, or overpass several critical limits that results in an overheating of certain electronic components, or lead to the destruction of parts of its physical layers. Over the course of its life, the system constantly publishes its self-destructive activity in the form of a print out of all the different commands.

I discovered the work two days ago at the Artefact festival at STUK in Leuven (a mere 15 minute away from Brussels so take the train now if you’re in Belgium because the show is as enchanting as its theme suggests) and Dataghost 2 was dead. The demise came quite early. The email exchange in which the artists and STUK tried to understand what had happened was printed out and added to the exhibition space. The emails reveal that the system probably erased a critical file which brought the whole process to its term.

The installation is currently running in dead mode. Both the printing machine and the screen remain frozen. 



RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

I found the work brilliant. On the one hand, it is super complex and perplexing, just like most esoteric practices. On the other hand, it demonstrates with great efficiency and simplicity that algorithms (and by extension any technology system) are only as rational (or irrational) as the humans who program them.

Dataghost 2 is exhibited at the artefact festival in Leuven, Belgium. The exhibition, curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33 continues until 9 March 2017

If you find yourself in Paris, the RYBN collective will be discussing Dataghost 2 tomorrow 3 March at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris Cergy.

Related stories: The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History.

The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History

61cgn4ef6olThe Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History, by art historian Christopher Dell.

It’s on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Our belief in some form of magic runs throughout human history. In fact, in an increasingly rational and scientific world, the idea that occult or arcane knowledge can give us access to another, hidden reality is as strong and widespread as ever.

The Occult, Witchcraft and Magic is a lively and fascinating history of all things cryptic, mystic and other-worldly, beginning with the earliest evidence of magical thinking amid the gloom of a Palaeolithic cave, and ending in the bright light of our digital age and its newfound interest in paganism.

With hundreds of images drawn from rare and unusual sources, in-depth explorations of crosscultural themes and profiles of key figures from the history of magic, this is a bewitching and irresistible treasury of esoteric thought that will appeal to believers and sceptics alike.

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Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros. Anno 1057. Noli me tangere. Wellcome, via Bildgeist

I stopped believing in Saint Nicolas (a kind of Santa Claus for children living in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) when i was 6. That same week and with the blessing of my wonderful father, i stopped believing in God too. And although i do miss Saint Nicolas, art, science and lots of staffies are all i believe in. But then came 2016. That baffling year. People dismissing scientific evidence and claiming that climate change is nothing but a big hoax, for example. Or urgently calling for Catholic priests to be trained as exorcists (apparently some 500,000 Italians request an exorcism every year.)

I’m starting to wonder if i am the idiot here. And if i’m the idiot, i want to be one who is better educated in the worldviews so many people seem to share. That’s how The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History ended up in my hands. A book about all things magical and occult to help me figure out why people turn to ideas and practices i can’t understand. A book to help me appreciate better a number of smart artists whose work i admire so much: Suzanne Treister and the Tarots she uses to weave together technology, future, unseen forces and counterculture. Or Aaron Gach, founder of the rather amazing Center for Tactical Magic. And maybe next time i visit an exhibition like Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain, i will not need to lie and pretend that ‘Oh yes! Of course i know what a Ouija board is!”

I’ve just finished the book and i’m no closer to becoming a neopaganist. I’m also gutted to confirm that even the most sophisticated kind of magic will never explain 2016 anyway. However, i had a fantastic time learning about all things esoteric, ritualistic and alchemistic. Author Christopher Bell follows chronology, starting with Mesopotamian magic and closing on the contemporary rediscovery of witchcraft, adding plenty of inserts along the way to present the key figures and movements of the topic through times and geographical areas.

I can’t tell you whether or not this is a good book about magic because it’s the first time i read about such topic. But i can say that it’s a great reference guide to pick up and get the key facts on Zarathustra, the Golem, Zulu’s witch smellers, mesmerism or nephomancy. What i found most interesting in this book is the coexistence of science and magic inside the minds of perfectly reasoned and reasonable intellectuals. Isaac Newton was fascinated by alchemy, the Age of Enlightenment saw the boom of phantasmagoria, the advent of industrialization coincided with an interest for the Gothic and the macabre. Maybe the human mind is impervious to pure logic and sense?

And i’ll end this super quick review with the images! The glorious images i found in the book! See for yourself:

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Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros. Anno 1057. Noli me tangere. Wellcome, via Bildgeist

V0015977 Shaman/medicine man, body paint, Australia Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 1. A shaman or medicine man with extensive body painting Worgaia, Central Australia. Process print. 2. A shaman or medicine man with extensive body painting and nose stick, Australia. Colour process print. Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
A shaman or medicine man with extensive body painting and nose stick, Australia. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Image

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Akodessewa fetish market in Togo. Photo: jrwebbe, via Slate

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Akodessewa fetish market in Togo. Photo: jrwebbe

OUIDAH, BENIN - JANUARY 11: Egungun spirits perform during a Voodoo ceremony on January 11, 2012 in Ouidah, Benin. The Egungun are masqueraded dancers that represents the ancestral spirits of the Yoruba, a Nigerian ethnic group, and are believed to visit earth to possess and give guidance to the living. Ouidah is Benin's Voodoo heartland, and thought to be the spiritual birthplace of Voodoo or Vodun as it known in Benin. Shrouded in mystery and often misunderstood, Voodoo was acknowledged as an official religion in Benin in 1989, and is increasing in popularity with around 17 percent of the population following it. A week of activity centred around the worship of Voodoo culminates on the 10th of January when people from across Benin as well as Togo and Nigeria decend on the town for the annual Voodoo festival.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 136723721
Nigerian Yaruba Voodoo Spirits perform during a Voodoo ceremony on January 11, 2012 in Ouidah, Benin. Ouidah is Benin’s Voodoo heartland, and thought to be the spiritual birthplace of Voodoo or Vodun as it known in Benin. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

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Three Navajo in ceremonial dress, representing Tonenili, Tobadzischini, and Nayenezgani, the Yebichai war gods. Photo by Edward Curtis, 1904. From “Arts and Crafts of the Native American Tribes”

V0015993 Two Malayan exorcists dressed in elaborate ritual costume. H Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Two Malayan exorcists dressed in elaborate ritual costume. Halftone after a photograph by Wiele & Klein. By: Wiele & Klein.Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Two Malayan exorcists dressed in elaborate ritual costume. Halftone after a photograph by Wiele & Klein. Photo: Wellcome Image

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A New Orleans police officer holds a black wooden cross spiked with nails and special charms, 17 June 1949. Image

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Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Jade Rabbit and Songoku the Monkey King, 1889

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Turquoise mask representing Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of sorcery. Date unknown, The British Museum, London. Photo

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A table levitating during a seance with Eusapia Palladino, 12 November 1989. Bibliotheque National de France, Paris/Archives Charmet/BI

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The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, a plant once believed to grow sheep as its fruit

Inside the book:

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Previously: Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic, Kabbalistic Synthesizer, a ‘sonification’ of live macrocosmic phenomena, Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain, KGB, CIA black sites and drone performance. This must be an exhibition by Suzanne Treister and HEXEN 2.0.