Sensory Conception: Magic, Technology & Publicity.

Page 1

sensory conception

nicholas mortimer

magic technology & publicity

Cover Image Collage by Author Diagram from Descartes’ Treatise of Man (1664), showing the formation of inverted retinal images in the eyes, and the transmission of these images, via the nerves so as to form a single, re-inverted image (an idea) on the surface of the pineal gland. U.s Patent 4,211,024 - Magic drinking straw - Joe H. Nickell (1978) Diagram of areas in the brain connected with Hipermnesia: a condition which entails exceptionally exact or vivid memory.

Sensory Conception Magic, Technology & Publicity

Nicholas Mortimer RCA Design Interactions Submitted to Critical Historical Studies Royal College of Art October 2012 8032 words


List of Illustrations






Chapter 1

Magic and Grey matter: Potentials of the enchanted Mind


Chapter 2

Product displacement: Simulation and pixels


Chapter 3

Magical Interventions: Publicity, ideology and promotion


Chapter 4

Sensory Conception: (In)visible interfaces



The boundaries of efficiency and futility






List of Illustrations


Fig 1

Poster of ‘Dr Marbuse the Gambler’ (1922) dir. Fritz Lang The complete Fritz Lang Marbuse Box Set (DVD) 2009

Fig 2

Film still from ‘Spellbound’ (1945) dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Fig 3

Film stills from ‘8½’ (1963) dir. Federico Fellini

Fig 4

Promotional images for ‘Mynd’ produced by Neurofocus Inc

Fig 5

Film still from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988) dir. Robert Zemeckis

Fig 6

Drawing of improvement in Magic Lanterns (1864) From U.S National Archives (

Fig 7

Film stills from ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ (1971) dir. Mel Stuart

Fig 8

Film stills from ‘They Live’ (1988) dir. John Carpenter

Fig 9

Illustration of ‘Peppers Ghost’ Trick. (c.1800’s) Universal History Archive/Getty Image. Artist unknown

Fig 10

Press image of Tupac and Dr.Dre (2012) Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Fig 11

Advertisement of ‘Magical Musk’ for Max Factor (1984) Jim Heimann ‘All American Ad’s of the 80’s’ ( Koln. Taschen. 2005) pg. 460

Fig 12

Advertisement of ‘Wrangler Jeans’ for Wrangler (1986) Jim Heimann ‘All American Ad’s of the 80’s’ ( Koln. Taschen. 2005) pg. 436

Fig 13

Advertisement of ‘Lucky Strike Cigarettes’ (late 1920’s)

Fig 14

Press image of President George W. Bush (2003) Associated Press

Fig 15

Television stills from ‘TV AD’ Chris Burden (1977)

Fig 16

Cropped image from advertisement ‘J’adore’ Christian Dior Jean- Baptiste Mondino (2004)

Fig 17

‘The Medium is the Massage’ Page 76-77 McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Massage” USA. Ginko Press. (2005)

Fig 18

Images from the paper –‘Implant Technology for Cybernetic Systems’ (2003)

Fig 19

Cover of ‘Magnetic Brain’ (1953) Volsted Gridban (author)

Fig 20

Film stills from ‘Electric Earth’ (1999) dir. Doug Aitken

Fig 21

Diagram of historical, social, technological and cultural ideas formed during the writing of this thesis (2012) (Authors Own)




I enjoy the irrational. I have chosen to discuss Magic as a central and unifying theme because a notion of contingency is something I believe should be valued, and designed around. As we continue to ‘progress’ by seeking to quantify and understand every mystery, we provoke a torrent of knowledge, which does something to our experience of the world. I want to look to a system that for me represents a dislocation from truth, a faith in uncertainty and a universal set of beliefs, which promotes intuitive and emotional responses. Nicholas Mortimer September 2012



Can we appreciate a combination of systems that constitute the space of uncertainty and persuasion? We find in two complimentary areas of creativity, moments where new perspectives on experiencing the world are offered, and both share a requirement for rigorous design, and a great deal of faith. By critiquing references, from art, cinema and emerging technologies I aim to form a constellation of ideas found in the systems of magic, publicity and technology by looking at the design of fictions, emerging experiences and potential scenarios. Why have I chosen to discuss these rather vast areas of our lives, instead of delving into more physical and solid concerns? – My enquiry began by investigating the relationship that magic has with the manipulation and transmission of information. We live in a world now where data has become a new form of currency, and the word ‘communication’ has become absorbed into a technologized and socially mediated stage. Our new found reliance on devices which are both rapidly miniaturizing and further removing us from their functions, imposes on the user a degree of magic and uncertainty. Within the recent history of publicity we see a reflection of values that the stage magic of a past era once entertained the masses with Illusion, deception, incredible feats and strange visions. I view these qualities as systems that can be seen as propositions for a variety of designed realities, fictions, or possibilities It is within this notion of the creation of new realities, whether a sleight of hand lasting a second, or a well-crafted piece of copy, that I now find the inspiration to design for. This thesis represents for me a heavily edited version of many ideas, and potential routes, which will, I hope, allow me to make a body of work capable of discussing many of the invisible interfaces growing around us. I am interested in how the systems of magic and publicity can be seen as systems of design, both being ways in which we communicate, and process’s which can rupture reality, for durations which are hard to fully grasp.


Figure. 1: Poster of ‘Dr Marbuse the Gambler’ (1922) dir. Fritz Lang


Figure 2: Film still from ‘Spellbound’ (1945) dir. Alfred Hitchcock


By considering that both magic and publicity indicate a ‘logic of fables and of our willingness to go along with them’,1 I want to examine the ways in which we have chosen to represent and continue to search for new versions of reality. We have witnessed in recent history such a rapid progression in the way we experience the world, that through the speed of information and our ability to access it, we are seeing a change ‘in both mind and body, with technology that is far more immersive, encompassing and confounding, we are entering an age of uncanny technologies.’2 It is with this in mind that I want to explore the ways in which magic as a ubiquitous concept allows us to ‘create the illusion of an impossible reality’3 and how a mechanism of promoting ideas can ‘channel our unthinking habits, and our thought processes.’4

Through four chapters I will address different aspects of how information is influenced as we look to define the irrational or optimize reality. My hope is that, through the variety of sources and combinations, it can become clear that magical ideas, or a reliance on the unknown, are vital ingredients within the ‘sudden acceleration of common reality and in the excess reality that subverts our past history.’5


1 Jean Baudrillard. The System of Objects. (London UK: Verso, 1996) pg. 180

2 Paola Antonelli /James hunt. Talk to Me; Design and the communication between people and

objects. (NY USA: MoMA Publications, 2011) pg. 48 3 Darwin Ortiz. Designing Miracles. (USA: Ortiz Publications, 2006) pg.30 4 Vance Packard. The Hidden Persuaders. (NY USA, IG Publishing, 1957/2007) pg. 31 5 Paul Virilio “The Futurism of the Instant” (UK Polity Press. 2010) pg. 92


Chapter 1 Magic and Grey matter: Potentials of the enchanted Mind

“There are a few tricks but part of it is real somehow” The partner of the mind reader – Federico Fellini 8½ (1963)

The mind is a ‘space’ in which mankind has consistently craved to understand. The power to control the mind, or for it to be owned or manipulated, is embedded in a cultural understanding of fear, from psychosis to brain washing. Salvador Dali represented the mind via psychoanalytic symbolism in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), whilst Fritz Lang presented Dr Marbuse as a terrifying criminal mastermind with the power to control us from within. These are just two examples within a plethora of fictions where the ‘basic elements of human nature may be turned by skill-full handling.’6 Therefore, the mind is a place, which has been both speculated on and its power coveted, reflecting a primary aspiration of magic: the power to control things remotely. In a creative sense, and since the more rational approach to understanding its faculties, the mind has also offered an appreciation of our lack of control and the strengths that we may find in an ‘active participation in the unknown.’7


6 Edward Bernays “Crystalizing Public Opinion” (USA. NY. IG Publishing 2009) pg. 155 7 Andrew Murphie “Brain Magic – Technologies of Magic –Edited by John Potts and Edward Scheer” (AUS. Sydney .Power Publications .2006) Pg. 113

The spiritualist movement of the mid 1800’s saw the re-emergence of ‘real magic outside of religion8, namely the ability to communicate with the dead, resulting in a conflict with the current stage magic of the day which had developed as a result of an enlightened rationality 9 . This ‘secular magic’ had no supernatural connotations, and was a manipulation of the real to create illusions, which began to provide a relationship between the sciences and the theatre. During the ‘Golden Era of magic’ 10 (1890 -1930) rapid technological advancements allowed for a multitude of tricks to be employed, with new mechanisms and optics capable of visibly altering a myriad of props. Stage magicians can be seen to have seven ‘effects’ in which to convince an audience of their abilities in distorting our sense of the real. The seventh effect however stands outside of the physical realm, ‘demonstrating control over man’s mental or psychic aspects.’11 1)

Appearance (production & multiplication)


Disappearance (vanish)


Transposition (transference & exchange)


Destruction (mutilation & restoration)


Transformation (or change of shape)


Levitation (suspension)


Divination (premonition & prediction)

A technology of the mind is revealed and becomes infused with a sense of creativity, with the design of routines focused on extracting or determining inner thoughts. Telepathy or hypnosis are born out of advances in the study of psychology,12 and mind reading as a form of both entertainment and treatment therefore offers an influence over how we ‘think about thoughts’ although this is perhaps hidden under the emotion of amazement or shock.

8 Simon during. An Interview with Sina Najafi In Cabinet Magazine Vol 26(NY USA, 2007) pg. 94 9 Ibid

10 Jonathan Allen “Magic Show – From Bosch to Blackpool” (UK Hayward Publishing. 2009) pg. 17

– [The author states that this is the ‘so called’ Golden Era of Magic] 11 Jehangir Bhownagary. “Creativity of The Magician.” In Leonardo Vol. 5 (UK Pergamon Press, 1972) pg. 32 12 Muscle reading was explored as a technique by neurologist George Beard, and mind readers such as Jacob Randall Brown (1851-­‐1926) and Washington Irving Bishop (1856 – 1859) exploited an ability to ‘receive thoughts or sensations via undisclosed psychological capabilities’ See -­‐ Simon During “Modern Enchantments”. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London UK, Harvard University Press, 2002) pg. 162


To examine further a use for these ideas of the mind, we can turn to a highly celebrated film to view ways in which both mind reading as an action, but also as a device which portrays a journey ‘inside the mind of the creative artist’,13 searching for a sense of order.

Federico Fellini’s ‘8½’ (1963) discusses the difficulties and illustrates the psychology of the creative process. As a meta-fiction, it illustrates Fellini’s own inability to conceive a definitive plot line - it follows a film director (Guido) struggling to resolve a project surrounded by expectation14. The film offers moments of fantasy as a way to show the ideas or scenes and archetypal characters with whom the director wishes to use in his own film. Within this narrative we are invited into the uncertain mind of both directors: Guido and Fellini. During the film, a magician plays a small yet symbolic role, which illustrates the broadcast and translation of thoughts and dreams as secret narratives. What the Magician embodies is the revealing of ones mental state, entering the mind of Guido who as we know is struggling with constructing his thoughts. The words procured from Guido’s mind are ‘ASA NISI MASA’, yet the magician is unaware of their meaning or unable to make sense of it. This is a seemingly comic notion, as the actual magic seems to have worked, but the subject requires more translation. Unlike a notion of publicity, which ‘explains everything on its own terms, interpreting the world,’15 an answer is produced through a cinematic device, an illustration of a memory, as a ‘dream like’ unconscious recollection. It seems that ‘ASA NISI MASA’ are yet another doubling device, a childhood incantation spoken to communicate with a spirit held in a painting.

13 John. C. Stubbs. “Fellini’s portrait of the artist as creative problem solver”

(University of Texas Press. Cinema Journal, Vol. 41, No. 4. 2002) pg. 116

14 8½ is reputed to be an ‘auto-­‐biopic,’ as Fellini had similar hardships in resolute decisions


regarding the theme and plot of this film. After the success of La Dolce Vita he was expected to ease into a follow up. 8½ is so special as it deals with a constructed reality to both comment on and aid the problems that Fellini had encountered. 15 John Berger “Ways of Seeing” (UK. Penguin Books /BBC. 2008) pg. 143

Figure 3: Film stills from ‘8½’ (1963) dir. Federico Fellini


It is here that we find a fascinating combination of mind-reading and the structuring of a complex fiction; the archetypal stage magician forms a junction at which we can appreciate a sense of magic as a creative and embedded part of Fellini’s own thinking. The mind reading alternates between a secular view of magic as entertainment, and reveals a more mystical view of the creative support that Fellini finds in a magical belief system. The ‘ASA NISI MASA’ sequence utilizes mind reading as a way to explore the creative process and highlights the ability of cinema to describe inner feelings and delve into private thoughts. Fellini has capitalized on the space of uncertainty surrounding the privacy of the mind, but in an entirely different context an emerging application of neuroscience and marketing could be attempting to design for this unusual and powerful void. Neuromarketing has developed as a way to understand consumer’s cognitive responses to marketing material. By compiling neurological data, new companies are aiming to allow their clients to ‘reach the subconscious level of the brain, the place where consumers develop initial interest in products, inclinations to buy them.’16 This area of marketing has been rapidly expanding, with companies performing research on the mental activity of shoppers as they consider products and prices, leading to a new way of marketing products and services. Large companies are reported to have received great results from this approach, which claims to be more accurate and insightful than focus group or aging psychological techniques.17 This could be seen as a strange inversion of Guido and the ‘ASA NISI MASA’ sequence. Instead of a magical ability to remove information from another’s brain, we could be faced with a social space where information is manipulated and transmitted to us unknowingly.

16 Natasha Singer Making Ads that Whisper to the Brain (NY USA The New York Times 2010)

13 last accessed 11/04/12 17 Intel, ESPN, Pepsico, CBS and Ebay are all reputed to have sought the help of neuro marketing.

Figure 4: Promotional images for ‘Mynd’ produced by Neurofocus Inc


This neurological application to publicity could in many ways triumph what Edward Bernays (1891-1995) once proposed through psychological methods that ‘if we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it’?18 As advertising methods have developed and neurological conjuring has found increased power to tap into our brains, we could be facing a future where ‘marketers won't have to ask us what we think or try to decipher our intentions from our actions. They'll be able to monitor what we think directly - at the cellular level’19. Is this form of manipulation the ultimate real life trick or an inevitability of a ‘technological rationalisation or the realization of the imaginary?’20 Certainly, from a magician’s point of view the power of neuromarketing promises a total control of thoughts in the mind. What neuromarketers can now offer is the supposed ability to cast a new spell over its consumers, digitising the human skill of mind readers, to tweak real world products and situations, and potentially surprising us by what we are attracted to. What draws me to this emerging and potentially unnerving marriage between publicity and science is the consequences of the cognitive arena becoming a platform for design. Neuromarketing exists ‘at the very creation of an unconscious idea, the instant your brain receives a stimulus and subconsciously reacts’21. We could view this as a bizarre twist on past reading of publicity, as ‘an application not to reality, but to day-dreams’, 22 as what neuromarketing is proposing, through the full translation of intercepted thoughts, is a cartography of the day-dream, and thus the possibility to design a day dream itself.

18 Edward Bernays. Propaganda. (NY USA, Ig Publishing, 2005) pg. 71

19Nick Carr. Neuromarketing could make mind reading the ad-­‐man’s ultimate tool. (UK, The


Guardian, 2008) last accessed 11/04/12 20 Herbert Marcuse “One Dimensional Man” (UK. London USA . NY. Routledge) pg. 253 21 Fast Company “Neuro-­‐Focus uses Neuro Marketing to Hack Your Brain” –(September 2011) (­‐uses-­‐neuromarketing-­‐hack-­‐your-­‐brain) Last Accessed 19/08/2012 22 John Berger “Ways of Seeing” (UK. Penguin Books /BBC. 2008) pg. 140

Whether this becomes simply a case of adjusting packaging or slogans could be today’s limits, but it is easy to consider that beyond the associations contained in visual advertising there lies a rather science fiction world. Let us consider briefly “Confido”, a story written by Kurt Vonnegut about Henry and his magical invention that gives voice to our innermost thoughts. The short narrative ends with Henry’s wife Ellen, distraught with the consequences of this mind reading, and mind feeding technology:

‘Its a direct wire to the worst in us. Henry." said Ellen. She burst into tears. "Nobody should have that, Henry, nobody! That little voice is loud enough as it is.’23

Here, Vonnegut is providing a warning of future technologies, whilst using technology as a vehicle to describe a factor of humanity, uncertainty or doubt, which is maintained and celebrated by Fellini’s 8½. With Confido, we can consider the effects of a mind reading, or an artificial intelligence, which ‘gives voice to our innermost thoughts and unspoken grievances’,24 and we could view neuromarketing as an opportunity to explore these themes for a commercial gain.

We are aware now that publicity has reached a point where ‘competing messages cancel each other out’ 25 and it becomes clear

that if ideas concerning mind reading are

fashioned into a persuasive outcome, we can expect a whole new layer of illusion taking place. As Fellini critiques the technology of the mind, whilst neuromarketing designs for it, I know that whatever messages I receive in the future, could be more than a product of someone else’s imagination.

23 Kurt Vonnegut "Confido" (USA. Delacorte Press. 2009) pg. 20 24 Ibid

25 Jean Baudrillard “The System of Objects” (London UK, Verso, 1996) pg. 179


Chapter 2 Product displacement: Simulation and pixels.

VALIANT I hate Toontown... VALIANT'S FOV Through







Toontown where it's a beautiful sunny day. driving






Eddie is now




completely animated world. It’s a Max Fleischer version of









swaying in time with the MUSIC. He tips his hat. 26

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) Field of view notes

The screen is a medium where we have in recent history found a new and fertile environment for experiencing imaginary worlds. It is arguably the medium with the most magical power, able to relate reality as fact, fiction, or pure fantasy. These abilities act as the ‘chief catalysts of a new phantasmagoria’27, as they ‘wrap us in illusions’28 to create a new supernatural layer to society, one which has become omnipresent and relied on as a part of our new reality. A relationship between moving images and magic can be traced back to the magic lantern, a technology using the projection of images by candlelight and lenses, ‘its inventor, as noted by Jesuit Scholar, Athanasius Kircher (1601 – 1680), was a Danish commercial and itinerant natural magician’29. The magic lantern was a popular spectacle, and revised a social understanding of the reproduction and the representation of spaces beyond objective reality.

26 Screenplay by Jeffrey Price : last accessed


28/09/12 27 Marina Warner “Phantasmagoria” (UK Oxford University Press. 2006) pg335 28 Ibid 29 Simon During. “Modern Enchantments”. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London UK, Harvard University Press, 2002) pg. 284

Figure 5: Film still from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988) dir. Robert Zemeckis

Figure 6: Drawing of improvement in Magic Lanterns (1864) U.S National Archives


With cinema, we see an affiliation with the world of magic, some of the ‘first cinematographers, such as George Méliès, were also stage magicians’30 and ‘the organiser in London showings of the Lumière Brother’s cinematograph was a conjurer.’31 Thomas Edison’s early films portrayed magician’s routines, performing tricks (which we now think of as simple editing tools) with the technology of film becoming the magic trick itself, and the power of the screen to enchant a viewer continues today as digital special effects are ‘subtly changing the nature of reality as experienced through moving images.’32

The screen then, becomes a place where reality is tested, not only as an electrical extension of human sight, but as an uncanny electronic space.33 It is somewhere that images and realities can be portrayed and repeated, creating a gradual but entrenched belief system in products, people and the world. One use of screen technology can allow us to consider a slightly more fantastic version of what was previously discussed in relation to neuromarketing. Although a fiction, a technology found in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (1964) by Roald Dahl brings together both the potential of broadcast images, and direct marketing techniques, to form a magical process.

‘Wonka Vision’ features near the end of the story, an absurd fable dealing with greed and punishment, where Willy Wonka acts as the creator of amazing confectionary, part mad scientist, and part magician. Wonka Vision is one of many inventions housed in the chocolate factory, but represents a technological fantasy – the teleportation of chocolate into television sets, with the viewer able to remove the chocolate from the screen.

30 Patricia Pringle . Technologies of Magic. (NSW Australia, Power Publications, 2006) pg. 56

31 Georges Sadoul & M.Louis Lumiere The Last interview “Film Makers on Film Making” (USA.


Indiana University Press. 1967) pg. 37 32 Woody Hochswender. When the Camera Lies (NY USA New York Times, 1992)­‐when-­‐the-­‐camera-­‐lies.html. Last accessed 10/05/2012 33 Jeffrey Sconce. Haunted Media. ( Durham & London, Duke university Press, 2000) pg. 17

This bizarre invention not only places a magical potential into an ever-expanding area of public life (the novel was written in the 1960s as television began to become a globalised media) but also discusses a fantasy of advertising, fusing the screen, a product with a magical marketing tool.

“When I start using this across the country… you’ll be sitting at home watching television and suddenly a commercial will flash onto the screen and a voice will say, -EAT WONKA’S CHOCOLATES? THEY’RE THE BEST IN THE WORLD! IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE US, TRY ONE FOR YOURSELF – NOW! – And you simply reach out and take one! How about that, eh? ‘Terrific’ cried Grandpa Joe. It will change the world!”34

Wonka Vision highlights a sense that through a future technology, the power of the television or screen can impose a direct and enchanting interaction with an audience. In this scenario, albeit a fantasy, the screen becomes a powerful tool for the Wonka Company. This may be a satirical device used by the author to draw attention to the power of television itself, (which has over the years seen many explorations of the hypnotic or other dimensions provided by the television and its formats35) and at the same time highlighting a fundamental goal in both science and magic, as quantum physics hopes to discuss teleportation, a feat which operates in both the world of magic and physics.

34 Roald Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (NY USA, Penguin Books, 1982) pg. 115

35 The techno-­‐surrealist film “Videodrome” (1983) or “Poltergeist” (1982) portray a televisual

power which either entices or abducts, and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) juxtaposes reality and cartoon worlds together, twisting conventions to animate reality.


Figure 7: Film stills from ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ (1971) dir. Mel Stuart


With this newfound ability to move objects through the powers of television, the chocolate bar becomes a magical item (it appears out of thin air), within the story it is not questioned that it should be possible to move matter and allow for a free sample to make up part of a commercial gimmick. This is therefore a fiction that goes far beyond televisual advertising, which simply deliver persuasive messages across the airwaves. With advertising, the illusion of the moving image is used to conjure up the idea of a product, and this portrayal of emotion, association and enchantment is what is used to create a psychological attraction. The product is a combination of associations, displayed as a virtual object. The fact that the Wonka bar could be removed and eaten allows for a ‘moment when visual wonder is about to receive the reasoned assault of touch,’36 reality takes over, and the physicality of the experience reminds us that ‘touch is the most demystifying of all sense, unlike sight which is the most magical.’37 Wonka Vision in this context undermines the cognitive tricks used by conventional advertisers and illusionists of the past. Whereas Willy Wonka’s televisual magic seeks to provide a physical product in a direct form of product placement, the technological advances made within the realm of augmented reality and mobile devices have enriched today’s forms of screen-based persuasion. However, in the 1988 film ‘They Live’ (Directed by John Carpenter) an alternative use of the screen and the communication of a magical reality is offered. Carpenter shows us an America run by an oligarchy of outer-space ghouls ‘who've clouded everyone's minds through subliminal advertising on TV’.38 The central character John Nada is able to see the true world around him with the use of ‘special’ glasses. The glasses reveal the true identities of the alien invaders, as well as the hidden messages covering the city. ‘Billboards and magazines turn into placards or broad sheets, exhorting the masses -style, to 'Obey! 'Conform!' Be subservient! 'Marry and reproduce.’39 Unlike Wonka Vision, this screen (the glasses) exposes a reality; it uncovers the sinister truth that within all forms of advertising a very direct form of indoctrination is taking place.

36 Roland Barthes. Mythologies. (London UK, Paladin, 1973) pg. 97 37 Ibid

38 Michael Wilmington . Mind Control over Matter in John Carpenters; They Live. (LA USA, L.A

Times, 1988)­‐11-­‐04/entertainment/ca-­‐1283_1_john-­‐ carpenter -­‐Last accessed 25/05/2012 39 Ibid


This science fiction narrative appropriates the argument that ‘the picture of the world that is presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality,’ 40 and our protagonist discovers that the television holds the key to exposing the truth behind the alien contingent. We are presented with a fine parody of the ‘the egalitarian enslavement of a mass society by mass electronic media’41 and with a twist of technological magic, the sunglasses provide a window into a reality which is hidden behind the smoke screen of an illusion. The ability for projected images to take the place of the real world has never been so present, and on Sunday 15th of April 2012, an audience witnessed the resurrection of both a technology of magic and a hip-hop legend. Tupac Shakur, the successful rapper, killed in 1996 appeared onstage at a Californian music festival. The artist ‘stepped off the screen, gave shout-outs to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and started working the stage, mike in hand, just like old times.42 The special effect was simply an updated version of the ‘Peppers Ghost’ routine, used in the mid 1800s, which employs an angled and almost invisible screen to project onto, forming a ghostly apparition. What is important however is that in our digital culture this remarkable spectacle allowed the virtual and the real to interact, as the crowd sang with and reacted to an incorporeal musician.

40 Noam Chomsky. Media Control; The Spectacular achievements of propaganda. (USA Seven

Stories Press, 2002) pg. 64

41 Jeffrey Sconce. Haunted Media. ( Durham & London, Duke university Press, 2000) pg. 123 42 Russell Potter “Tupac’s posthumous tour” (USA. New York Times. April 2012)

23­‐live-­‐and-­‐onstage.html last accessed 10/08/12

Figure 8: Film stills from ‘They Live’ (1988) dir. John Carpenter


With this integration of digital and optical technology, we can appreciate a moment where the screen is enveloped into a dynamic experience, and a comment on an article about the event highlights what such an experience could lead to.

This real time simulation of mirages could well be on its way. Google’s ‘Project Glass’, has begun to publicise a product that has been developed from research into hands free informational displays. The Google glasses, planned for release by the end of 2012 ‘will use augmented reality software to return real-time information about locations and people.’43 This furthers the already popularised ability to interact with the real world environment via smart phones, by proposing a real-time personalised and profitable notice board. This makes an interesting counterpoint to the scenario proposed by John Nada fighting aliens in ‘They Live’, and more importantly, it makes it real. Here we see today’s rapid technological advancements making a wearable device that will create new spaces in front of our eyes. By turning the magic lantern of the past into an accessory to be worn, we could see the overlapping of the virtual and real space become indefinitely blurred, the glasses not exposing the truths behind the electronic curtain, but instead, adding another layer.

43 Nick Bilton. Google to sell heads up display glasses by year’s end. (NY USA, New York Times,


2012)­‐to-­‐sell-­‐terminator-­‐style-­‐glasses-­‐by-­‐ years-­‐end/ last accessed 11/08/12

Figure 9: Illustration of ‘Peppers Ghost’ Trick. (c.1800’s) Universal History Archive/Getty Image.

Figure 10: Press image of Tupac and Dr.Dre (2012) Christopher Polk/Getty Images


Whereas Tupac’s return indicates a society ready to be wowed by old tricks, Google could offer a vast interactive environment, administering a more pervasive technology than Willy Wonka ever dreamed possible. It seems that now a space has appeared where apparitions are now informatics, and there is no doubt that ‘there are huge opportunities for tailored advertising with augmented reality systems - especially if they have in-built GPS location tracking.’44 So the screen will enable yet more connection to a virtual unreal space, and provide new and disorientating effects, as we find ourselves potentially bombarded with what could be either a fantastic experience, or a sinister marketing tool. It is clear that the latest offering from Google allows us to make tangible the promise of a virtual reality so eagerly anticipated in the late 1980s, where reality could become an entirely man-made construct, a complete illusion, masterfully crafted and delivered, extending the fantasy of a suspension of disbelief.


BBC news/technology -­‐ Google unveils Project Glass augmented reality eyewear (UK -­‐­‐17618495) last accessed 04/04/2012



Figure 12: Advertisement of ‘Wrangler Jeans’ (1986) Jim Heimann ‘All American Ad’s of the 80’s’

Figure 11: Advertisement of ‘Magical Musk’ - Max Factor (1984) Jim Heimann ‘All American Ad’s of the 80’s’


Chapter 3 Magical Interventions: Publicity, ideology and promotion.

“Sometimes, if the incident* is striking enough…one may be shaken to such an extent as to distrust all accepted ways of looking at life, and to expect that normally a thing will not be what it is generally supposed to be.” Walter Lippmann –‘Public Opinion’ (1921) (* the contradiction of a stereotype)

Karl Marx considered the ‘commodity fetish’ to be a concept which allowed a degree of ‘magical thinking that conjures away the labour required for commodity production, enabling objects to ‘magically speak for themselves.’45 This reading of how and why we orientate ourselves around the objects we are attracted to therefore requires a similar system to help us choose our desired commodity.

Magic could be seen as a province of fiction, a representation of reality, an act perceived to be impossible or ‘a pivot around which misrepresentations may be produced.’46 These facets are undoubtedly a function of the advertising world, which implies a future prospect, and relies on ‘the achievement of this future to be endlessly deferred.’47

45 Simon During. “Modern Enchantments”. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London UK, Harvard

University Press, 2002) pg. 25

46 Judith Williamson. “Decoding Advertisements –Ideology and Meaning in Advertising” (London,

Marion Boyars. 2002) pg 140

47 John Berger “Ways of Seeing” (UK. Penguin Books /BBC. 2008) pg. 140


The world of modern publicity was cemented by social theories of controlling the masses, and the tools needed to achieve this. Studies of crowd psychology in tandem with a survey of the individual psyche allowed greater insights into how and what we base our opinions and actions on, and how to control a degree of thinking behavior. We can think about a version of social magic by considering that ‘under certain conditions men respond as powerfully to fictions as they do to realities, and in many cases they help to create the very fictions to which they respond 48 ’. This quotation from Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion in 1921, provided a ‘diagnosis of the public mind, and ideas about how leaders could manage it’49 which directly led to one of the most significant practitioners of early public relations. Edward Bernays (1891 - 1995) was part of a small group of strategists who developed a different approach to advertising goods and services. Appreciating the power of the media in controlling public opinion and by creating layered illusions, he designed ways in which objects, products or even ideology could be made more desirable. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays coupled the needs of business and politics with an understanding of mass and individual psychology. After having worked for the Committee on Public Information and heavily involved with First World War military propaganda, Bernays would design a vast array of campaigns and methods of persuading the public in commercial and political contexts that could be seen as mass illusions. Bronislaw Malinowski wrote: ‘Partly perhaps because we hope to find in it (magic) the quintessence of primitive man’s longings and of his wisdom – and that, whatever it might be, is worth knowing’50 and this, it could be argued is what Bernays was able to achieve in his publicity strategies.

48 Walter Lippmann. “Public Opinion” (USA BN Publishing. 1921/2002) pg 10

Ewen. (Introduction to) Edward Bernays “Crystalising Public Opinion” (NY USA, Ig Publishing 2011) pg. 18 50 Bonislaw Malinowski “Magic, Science and Religion” (USA. NY. Doubleday Anchor Books. 1954) pg. 69 49 Stewart


Figure 13: Advertisements of ‘Lucky Strike Cigerettes’ (late 1920’s)


One famous example occurred in 1929 when Bernays was given the task to popularize smoking for the female population. At an Easter parade in New York, he organized a group of young debutantes (supposedly led by his secretary), to be seen and photographed by the press lighting up cigarettes, having already told the newspapers that the women were suffragettes protesting for women’s liberation, and that the cigarettes were symbols or “torches of freedom to protest mans inhumanity.” 51 This well choreographed incident was a well-worked sleight of mind, associating the cigarette with not only freedom, but also youth and attractiveness, and with a contrived distraction enabled a product to become a politically motivated symbol. The campaign was a success as newspapers across America inadvertently advertised a product within a story of protest, and it could be argued that Bernays had initiated a psychological affect on a national scale.

Just as magicians are those who control an effect, Bernays was able to make a genuine reality out of an emblematic juxtaposition, with ideas as props and newspapers as the stage. Here Bernays provides an example of design on a level of ideology, something which advertising today has continued to explore. Publicity has become a vast ideological handbook, replacing ‘the role formerly played by a range of distinct values; becoming the basis of a groups ethos.52’ If this is the case, the concept that publicity and the media offers, becomes akin to a reading of magic as a ‘transformational system which incorporates many different elements of ideology53’ leading us to perhaps examine some ways in which publicity has been used or appropriated.

Certainly, Publicity requires a large network in order to communicate its ideals. In the case of the ‘Torches of Freedom’ campaign, Bernays had employed the media of the day, using newspapers to publish stories and print images of his event.

51 Video Interview With Edward Bernays via “The Museum of Public Relations” Last accessed 15/08/12

52 Jean Baudrillard “The System of Objects” (London UK, Verso, 1996) pg. 208


53 Judith Williamson. “Decoding Advertisements –Ideology and Meaning in Advertising” (London,

Marion Boyars. 2002) pg 144

Figure 14: Press image of President George W. Bush (2003) Associated Press


In more recent times, the stagecraft of events has found in television a greater space in which to perfect a persuasive syntax. More recent examples of a political stagecraft can be seen with the work of Scott Sforza, who worked for George W. Bush overseeing the public image and production of media events. Sforza, previously a television news producer, would ‘optimize each venue on the presidents schedule, utilizing props, lighting and visually arresting backdrops’ 54 to communicate the president’s message through television and photography. Through the staging of meticulously planned ‘real life’ public appearances, the administration could visually control the president’s image. ‘In explaining the strategy for managing the White House press operations in early 2001, presidential advisor Karl Rove told professor Martha Kumar of Towson University, “What you want to do is to set up the picture so that if the television sound is turned down, that it gets across what it is the President wants.”55 So, what if the images seen on a mute television are not intended to bolster public opinion, but instead meant to challenge it? Perhaps images which do not utilize a ‘Sforzian backdrop’56 or get lit by a ‘magic hour light.’57 What could be the ‘black mirror’ to this embedded ideology of the publicity message, whether to sell an item, or a President? Whereas Edward Bernays and Scott Sforza could be seen as conjuring or shaping ideas by promoting an artifice, we can see in a series of works by American artist Chris Burden, a layered critique and appropriation of the system of publicity. By transposing the usual visual and ideological model of a television advertisement.

54 Greg Allen. “Perspective Correction” In Cabinet Magazine. Vol 26 (NY. USA Immaterial Inc. 2007)


pg 73 55 Ibid. 56 Elisabeth Bumiller “Keepers of Bush Image Lift Stagecraft to New Heights”­‐of-­‐bush-­‐image-­‐lift-­‐stagecraft-­‐to-­‐new-­‐ heights.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm last accessed 29/08/12 57 Ibid.

Burden provides an art/advertising interface that goes beyond simply self-promotion. The series “The TV Commercials 1973-1977” consisted of four video works, which were broadcast on purchased advertising slots, and acted as an intervention within the media, which provided an unsuspecting audience with the experience of an unfamiliar message.

“TV Ad” (1973), the first in the series and perhaps the most intriguing, (unlike the rest of the works, it was not specifically made for the advertising slot) was the use of a ten second segment of a video work titled “Through the Night Softly” (1973). In the footage, Burden is seen crawling on his chest with his hands held behind his back, through broken glass, providing a confusing experience for thousands of viewers. Such an experience would have interrupted the normal flow of commercial messages, providing could be seen as a ‘short cut to a different system.’58 In the midst of this intervention, we find a moment which, similar to a reading of magic as a process of transformation, briefly restructures an excepted format where its ‘actions are shortcircuited without explanation.’59

Burden is not attempting to manipulate ideologies or dabble in the Bernaysian magic of an ‘engineering of consent’, instead his actions were intended to ‘break the omnipotent stranglehold of the airwaves, that broadcast television had’.60 The achievement of this work is that Burden opened up a conversation between himself and the television viewing public, who as interlocutors of an artistic act would have witnessed a fragmented narrative, a distortion of the norm, and a contrast of the language of persuasion used in publicity broadcasting.

58 Judith Williamson. “Decoding Advertisements –Ideology and Meaning in Advertising” (London,

Marion Boyars. 2002) pg 140

59 Ibid.

60 Electronic Arts Intermix : “ The TV Commercials 1973-­‐1977” last accessed 12/09/12



Figure 15: Television stills from ‘TV AD’ Chris Burden (1977) Showing a deodorant advert immediately fllowing his Artwork

Thinking of this as a transformational process, and considering that ‘magic not only accepts the unknown but celebrates and plays with it’61 what we see with ‘TV AD’ is a complex arrangement commenting on the delivery and the systems surrounding the dissemination of information. TV AD offers a ‘palpable atmosphere of anxiety and fascination’62 both as a parody of things seen in the media at the time (war films, Vietnam news coverage) and as the experience of a subliminal interruption of the constant rhythm of commercial breaks. The interventions outlined in this chapter have dealt with layers of fiction, either designed persuasion, or as a realisation of the power of the media. Each example offered a way to consider the power found in the ‘information industry, which carries prescribed attitudes and habits’63, or the direction of enchanted thoughts that can attract and justify certain opinions. The concept of a ‘commodity fetish’ makes clear that we, as consumers are no longer seeking simply what we need, but instead satisfying the desires that have been formed by systems of publicity. This in effect is a kind of ‘psychic architecture’ or designed ideology, which since the industrial revolution has become an evolving and formidable force. It could be argued that this constitutes a form of ‘indoctrination, which ceases to be publicity, and instead becomes a way of life’64 reasserting a notion of social magic continuing its routine. When Bernays ended his manual for public relations (Crystalizing Public Opinion 1922) he called for the higher strata of society to ‘inject moral and spiritual motives into public opinion,’ 65 perhaps we can see artists as such a strata, to inject some different and external ideas instead.

61 Andrew Murphie “Brain Magic” –In Edward Sheer and John Potts “Technologies of Magic”

(Sydney – Power Publications. 2006) pg 114

62 Robert Horvitz “CHRIS BURDEN” (USA. NY. Artforum magazine. Vol.14, No.9. 1976) pg. 32 63 Herbert Marcuse “One Dimensional Man” (London. Routeledge. 2002) pg14 64 Ibid

65 65 Edward Bernays “Crystalizing Public Opinion” (USA. NY. IG Publishing 2009) pg. 201


We can see in TV AD (1973) an example of how contemporary art can in fact become a true form of questioning, in real interaction with the world, and with a unique form of audience. Nowadays the opportunity for any similar action is practically impossible. The finances would prove to be astronomical but more importantly the territory has changed. We are now quite used to the fractured narrative of information that the digital revolution has provided us with, and interruptions to our attention are almost expected, as part of our interaction with the world. We are now all self-publishing to such an extent that the ‘gallery’ of a screen no longer makes a stand against a system of publicity but instead ‘subversion’ is assumed by a system of marketing, and via the freedom to publish, any instigation to challenge the system becomes lost or devalued, as everybody can generate their own personal propaganda.



Chapter 4 Sensory Conception : (In)visible interfaces

“Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible” Marshall McLuhan – The Medium is the Massage (1967)

A woman is before you. She is beautiful, radiant, bronzed. She is in what seems to be an endless sea of liquid gold, in which she is neither floating nor submerged. She moves slowly, abstractly – emerging from the molten pleasure. The gold ripples, its movements meticulously present. There is no sun, no horizon. Simply an interminable energy powerfully infused with wealth, purity and power. She is looking at you now, her eyes slowly blink, her arms released from the fluid sensuality. A voice speaks to you, telling you who, what, and finally, “Absolute.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Femininity.” A five-syllable word that somehow makes sense. The design of Christian Dior’s “J’Adore” advertising campaign of 2003-2004 creates a complex and alluring world. We can consider the structure and design of the short advertisement as an abstract, hyper sensory environment, created to describe visually a magical destination accessed through the possession of a sensuous cocktail. It is clear that ‘advertising provides formulae for emotions, in so far as the connections between feelings and things,’66 and the cosmetics industry has needed to design scenarios that reference worlds of emotion, sensation and of course, celebrity. These become places where magic resides, as an enchanted connectivity of our senses, with the promise of paradise.


66 Judith Williamson Judith Williamson. “Decoding Advertisements –Ideology and Meaning in

Advertising” (London, Marion Boyars. 2002) pg. 30-­‐31

Figure 16: Cropped image from advertisement ‘J’adore’ Christian Dior - Jean- Baptiste Mondino (2004)


One such world was inhabited by Ireneo Funes. Considered by many to be modelled on Solomon Shereshevsky, (1886 -1958: a mnemonist studied by neuropsychologist Alexander Luria) Funes was the subject of “Funes the Memorius” written by Jorge Luis Borges in 1942. Shereshevsky possessed not only an incredible memory, but also a fivefold synesthesia, meaning that ‘physical stimulation of one sense caused him to experience multiple sensations’.67 Borges gives this experience a voice, and deftly leads us into the vast mind of Funes, where memory becomes a mathematical data bank of infinite emotional recollections. “ Funes could continuously discern the tranquil advances of corruption, of decay, of fatigue. He could note the progress of death, of dampness. He was the solitary and lucid spectator of a multiform, instantaneous and almost intolerably precise world.”68 Unlike the world presented by J’Adore, Funes existence is not a fluid environment of pure femininity, but a frenetic and extreme space of ultra reality. He possesses a great power -his ability to compile information and receive mere traces of reality is superhuman, (this being the magical effect of a mnemonist’s routine) and Borges has fantasized with the conditions of a mnemonist to describe a magically real world. As a reflection of carefully designed sensory experiences, both Borges and J’Adore consider a heightened state of reality to be potentially desirable yet almost incomprehensible The ability to connect to a vast source of knowledge or power becomes a reference to the early stereotyped magician Faustus, as Funes has no control over the abilities he possesses, but in the early stages of the story this magical capability is romanticized. Whereas J’Adore prescribes an abstract visual offering of sensation, Borges carves out the intricacies of this state of being and eventually warns of the consequences of the access to such privileged information.


67 Alexander Luria “The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory” (UK. USA.

Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968)

68 Jorge Luis Borges “Labyrinths – Funes the Memorious” (UK. Penguin Books. 1974) pg.94

Figure 17: The Medium is the Massage’. Pages 76-77 Marshall McLuhan (1967)


Figure 18: Images from the paper –‘Implant Technology for Cybernetic Systems’ (2003)


Figure 19: Cover of ‘Magnetic Brain’ (1953) Volsted Gridban (Author)

“he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions. In the teeming world of Funes, there were only details, almost immediate in their presence.’69 So do we consider Funes’ worldview to in fact be a ‘phantasm’- a term defined in platonic philosophy as ‘objective reality as distorted by perception’? Is Funes’ world one where his perceptions deceive his sense of the real, and create vast illusions of reality which, having been built on facts, are then consumed by the tricks of his mind becoming something else, something unreal? Certainly, Borges’ masterful ability to weave infinite loops of reality into a comprehensible narrative allows us to think of a different way of considering our own experience of the world. It infuses reality with a type of magic by allowing us to imagine a sensory experience that could expand time and add meaning to otherwise ignored perceptions. But as a fable of the possession of a type of magical connectivity, we see parallels with recent experiments of sensory technology, which echo Marshall McLuhan’s proclamation that ‘electric circuitry, is an extension of the central nervous system.’70 In 2002, Professor Kevin Warwick had a complex neural interface containing 100 electrodes, interfaced with his nervous system and literally wired into his human senses. Experiments carried out allowed Warwick to control a robotic hand remotely via the Internet, between the University of Reading and Columbia University, New York. These actions modernise a Faustian aspiration, exploring a ‘potential conduit to an electronic elsewhere, that holds the promise of a higher form of consciousness.’


Beyond this element of electric impulses offering the means to perform a type of ‘telecontrol’ (a sophisticated and scientific version of many magic tricks), Warwick has suggested that a deeper and more significant emotional experience was achieved. Speaking in 2004, the Professor relates the sensation to a kind of sonar, an altogether foreign sense:

69 Ibid.

70 Marshall McLuhan “The Medium is the Massage” – (USA. Ginko Press. 2005) pg. 40

71 Jeffrey Sconce. Haunted Media. ( Durham & London, Duke University Press, 2000) pg. 92


“Like a type of Sonar……. using an ultrasonic sensor, the output from that was used to stimulate my nervous system……. …… literally I had to learn to recognize these pulses but then, with the ultrasonic sensors, with a blind fold on I could move around and detect objects and how far they were away.”72 Here, we arrive at an incredible situation, which realizes a notion of the ‘sixth sense’ fantasized about in magic, religion and fiction throughout history. What Warwick claims is that an interface of the senses with technology opens up a new space of sensory and emotional connectivity. Beyond possessing a ‘sonar’ sense, the experiment progressed into an attempt at thought communication. Using the same technology Warwick connected his wives nervous system to his own, perusing emotions and feelings, which could be shared on a biological and neurological level. “(we) linked our nervous systems together so when she moved her hand, my brain received a pulse, its like a telegraphic communication.”73

In relation to the fantasy world of Dior, we could begin to imagine that if Warwick were to perfect his cyborg implant, we might somehow transpose the molten world of J’Adore into a real sensory experience, or a programmed phantasm. This therefore becomes a technological intervention designed to ‘disrupt the consensual hallucination of everyday life,’74 providing an escape to uncertain territory.

72 Professor Kevin Warwick “The Choice – BBC Radio 4 with Michael Burke” (Broadcast on BBC


Radio 4. 14/06/2011) (At 21 minutes) 73 Ibid 74 John Gray “Straw Dogs” (UK London. Granta Books. 2003) pg.146

There is an interesting parallel with the golden era of magic which would profit from the advances of technologies to provide illusions and new possibilities. Warwick could be seen to simply be continuing this lineage in a contemporary fashion by addressing speculative themes found in science fiction, his extraordinary experiments promoting a suspension of disbelief to access a magical future. “Thought-to-thought communication is just one feature of cybernetics that will become vitally important to us as we face the distinct possibility of being superseded by highly intelligent machines……. ………. Linking people via chip implants directly to machines seems a natural progression, a potential way of harnessing machine intelligence by, essentially, creating super-humans” 75

So how can we imagine a future environment, where our senses have become tuned into to new and infinite cybernetic possibility, when ‘human perception is dethroned from its traditional role’76, and ‘capable of discovering coherence and cogency where they appear to be absent’?77

The lack of thought that Ireneo Funes experienced in his ‘intolerably precise world’ provides a fable to think about the consequences of such a powerful connection to our future surroundings. But beyond Kevin Warwick’s special effect of today’s scientific exploration, what could this tomorrow become?

75 Kevin Warwick “Cyborg 1.0” (Wired Magazine Feb 2000) Web Archive – last accessed 25/06/12 76 Marina Warner “Phantasmagoria” (UK Oxford University Press. 2006) pg323 77 Ibid


Doug Aitken has rendered this possible future in his 1999 cinematic installation: “Electric Earth”. A metaphysical portrayal of a lone man (possibly the last on earth) whose connectivity with a media infused world persuades a hypnotic and fractured narrative. With this praised work of Art (winning the International Prize at the Venice Biennale, 1999) Aitken updates and recodes a hyper-sensitised world similar to ‘Funes the Memorius’, which could seem like the result of Warwick’s idealized future of perception.

The film shows the lone man at first in a motel room staring at television static, and then on a stroll in an empty urban environment. His movements develop from irrational hand gestures into jerky spasms, often resembling urban contemporary dance, suggesting an interaction with his surroundings. Radars and flickering streetlights are juxtaposed with bursts of frenetic choreography, and it is unclear whether he is causing inanimate objects to react to him, or his movements are governed by an invisible interface. The sparse dialogue is repetitive and the opening scene offers some way to decipher the situation:

“A lot of times I dance so fast that I become what’s around me. It’s like food for me. I, like, absorb that energy, absorb the information. Its like I eat it. That’s the only now I get.”78

In this world we witness an environment where the movements of the man are not those of a ‘serene self awareness, rather one of technological disturbance and crisis,’79 which point to a malfunction of the senses. Perhaps the electric earth that Aitken has presented is a possible future where the ‘super-human’ imagined by Kevin Warwick has become less man and more machine.

78 Doug Aitken “Electric Earth” ( )

last accessed 23/09/12


79 Daniel Birnbaum “Doug Aitken” (London. Phaidon Press. 2000) pg. 67

Figure 20: Film stills from ‘Electric Earth’ (1999) dir. Doug Aitken


Figure 20 cont: Film stills from ‘Electric Earth’ (1999) dir. Doug Aitken


Electric Earth asks us to acknowledge an invisible system, another layer to our surroundings, and our perception in an accelerated present. The film could be viewed as the exploration of a type of magic space and in the same way that the Dior advert and Funes fabricated a world out of sensation, Aitken illustrates the way our perceptions are infused with magical potential to provide a heightened state of reality, or a system of uncertain connections. But the reality of Electric Earth is beyond our appreciation, and viewed differently it becomes a warning of the effects of today’s reality where ‘Past, present and future contract in the omnipresent instant.’80

Today, our sensory abilities are toyed with, more by digital or screen magic than stage magic or physical renderings of fantasies.

What we perceive to be our reality is

consistently given new references, but we will forever be enticed by the promise of the marvellous. One of the functions of magic ‘consists in the bridging-over of gaps and inadequacies not yet completely mastered,’81 and it is a system that relies on the belief in new perceptions and experiences, without promising their realisation. The real potential to discover and harness more of the invisible interfaces that we continue to pursue holds an uncertainty which can make us consider the consequences for our present, hyperlinked lives.

80 Paul Virilio “The Futurism of the Instant” (UK Polity Press. 2010) pg.71

81 Bonislaw Malinowski “Magic, Science and Religion” (USA. NY. Doubleday Anchor Books. 1954)

pg. 140


Conclusion: The boundaries of efficiency and futility “Knowledge is certainty; knowledge is not data. …..To obtain a certainty one must be able to observe. But what is the level of certainty required? And what is the level of observation required for a certainty or knowledge to exist?82 L. Ron Hubbard (1965)

Throughout all the subjects, people and advances that I have detailed, it has become clear that my attraction to magic has been that it promotes a trust in the unknown, a relationship with uncertainty. My original interest in the transmission and manipulation of information has resulted in an appreciation of how invisible interfaces are considered and designed. Through past fictions and interventions we witness the utilisation of the plasticity of the mind, its capacity to believe and the drama of creative doubt. The possibilities outlined by wonderful inventions and labyrinthine conspiracies can either warn or enchant. Present day speculations offer a tantalising array of potentially dystopian outlooks, as life emulates science fiction clichés. By considering the design of possible futures in art, publicity and technology, we can view an ambivalence in culture, which considers the high speed and open transmission of information to be enlightening and also values individual, uncompromising and idiosyncratic creativity. Today we are witnessing through the continued rationalisation of the world many instances that produce new effects, some obvious others hidden, or sinister. ‘We live everyday at the junction of the known and the unknown’83 as we become more removed from understanding the products of our own invention. We move into a future somewhere between efficiency and futility, where there is an absurdity in our addiction to progress and a desire to escape the consensual hallucination of our quotidian existence.

82 L. Ron Hubbard “Scientology – A new slant on life” (Denmark. AOSH Publications. 1972) pg.44


83 83 Andrew Murphie “Brain Magic” –In Edward Sheer and John Potts “Technologies of Magic”

(Sydney – Power Publications. 2006) pg. 114

What is clear is that the scientific studies of our minds, and perceptions will continue to reify imagination, transforming our understanding of free will,84with an ever present need to control, rationalize and organize the world. Simultaneously, the pride of individuality as the most widely used promotional idiom will require new and innovative ways of reacting in a commercially driven ‘global village’85 which is dominated by a ‘kind of conformity of ideas…. one cohesive structure…one cohesive consciousness….’86 The explorations of artists, writers and designer can prescribe visions of desired or alternative realities, which reflect a need for metaphysical and ambiguous perspectives to consider what is possible, desirable or probable. Magic continues to operate in this persistent quest for inspiration and creativity by challenging the present and preparing for these futures. My research has led me to a reading of magic as a system, which unifies logic and the absurd. As an artist I hope to represent the contradictions found in the acceleration of culture today, by interpreting the persistence of empirical reason, whilst appreciating mystery. I can only hope that these loose and uncertain relationships will combine just the right amounts of magic, technology and hopefully - publicity.

84 An interesting proposition of neuroscience, as this would result in an undoing of Benedict

Spinoza’s proclamation ‘that men think themselves free, inasmuch as they are conscious of their volitions and desires, and never even dream, in their ignorance, of the causes w hich have disposed them to wish and desire’ – Benedict de Spinoza “Ethics” (1677) Translated from the Latin by R.H.M. Elwes (1883) -­‐ MTSU Philosophy 85 See Marshall McLuhan’s critique of the media, and the change in social and cultural understanding through the rapid advances of communications technology. “The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man” (Canada; university of Toronto Press. 1962) and “The Medium is the Massage” –USA. Ginko Press. 86 Rikrit Tiravanija “Secession – Exhibition Catalogue” (Austria. Secession. 2002) pg. 2




Allen, Jonathan. “Magic Show – From Bosch to Blackpool” UK Hayward Publishing. 2009 Antonelli, Paola. Talk to Me; Design and the communication between people and objects. NY USA, MoMA Publications, 2011 Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. London UK, Paladin, 1973 Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects. London UK, Verso, 1996 Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing” UK. Penguin Books /BBC. 2008 Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. NY USA, Ig Publishing, 2005 Bernays, Edward. “Crystalizing Public Opinion” USA. NY. IG Publishing 2009 Borges, Jorge Luis “Labyrinths – Funes the Memorious” UK. Penguin Books. 19741 Ibid. Birnbaum, Daniel “Doug Aitken” London. Phaidon Press. 2000 Ortiz, Darwin. Designing Miracles. USA, Ortiz Publications, 2006 Chomsky, Noam. Media Control; The Spectacular achievements of propaganda. USA Seven Stories Press, 2002 Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. NY USA, Penguin Books, 1982 During, Simon. “Modern Enchantments”. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London UK, Harvard University Press, 2002 Geduld. Harry. M. “Film Makers on Film Making” USA. Indiana University Press. 1967 Gray, John. “Straw Dogs” UK London. Granta Books. 2003 Hubbard, L. Ron “Scientology – A new slant on life” Denmark. AOSH Publications. 1972 Lippmann, Walter. “Public Opinion” USA BN Publishing. 1921/2002 Luria, Alexander “The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory” UK. USA. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968 Malinowski, Bonislaw. “Magic, Science and Religion” USA. NY. Doubleday Anchor Books. 19541 Marcuse, Herbert. “One Dimensional Man” London. Routeledge. 2002 McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Massage” –USA. Ginko Press. 2005 Packard, Vance. The Hidden Persuaders. NY USA, IG Publishing, 2007 Potts John & Scheer, Edward. “Technologies of Magic- A cultural study of ghosts, machines and the uncanny” AUS. Sydney .Power Publications .2006 Sconce, Jeffrey. “ Haunted Media”. Durham & London, Duke university Press, 2000 Tiravanija, Rikrit “Secession – Exhibition Catalogue” Austria. Secession. 2002 Virilio, Paul. “The Futurism of the Instant” UK Polity Press. 2010 Vonnegut, Kurt. "Confido" USA. Delacorte Press. 2009 Warner, Marina. “Phantasmagoria” UK Oxford University Press. 2006 Williamson, Judith. “Decoding Advertisements –Ideology and Meaning in Advertising” London, Marion Boyars. 2002


Journals / Magazine Articles. Allen, Greg. “Perspective Correction” In Cabinet Magazine. Vol 26 NY. USA Immaterial Inc. 2007 Bhownagary, Jehangir. “Creativity of The Magician.” In Leonardo Vol. 5 UK Pergamon Press, 1972 During, Simon. An Interview with Sina Najafi In Cabinet Magazine Vol 26 NY USA, 2007 Horvitz, Robert “CHRIS BURDEN” USA. NY. Artforum magazine. Vol.14, No.9. 1976 Stubbs, John. C. “Fellini’s portrait of the artist as creative problem solver” University of Texas Press. Cinema Journal, Vol. 41, No. 4. 2002

Online resources. All links checked and working as of 1st October 2012. News BBC news/technology - Google unveils Project Glass augmented reality eyewear Bilton, Nick. Google to sell heads up display glasses by year’s end. New York Times Bumiller, Elisabeth. “Keepers of Bush Image Lift Stagecraft to New Heights” New York Times Carr, Nick. Neuromarketing could make mind reading the ad-man’s ultimate tool. The Guardian Fast Company “Neuro-Focus uses Neuro Marketing to Hack Your Brain” Hochswender, Woody. When the Camera Lies New York Times Potter, Russell. “Tupac’s posthumous tour” New York Times. Singer, Natasha. Making Ads that Whisper to the Brain The New York Times Wilmington, Michael . Mind Control over Matter in John Carpenters; They Live. L.A Times


Film Fellini, Federico (director /writer) “8½” 1963 – Criterion Collection DVD 2001 Aitken, Doug (director) “Electric Earth” Ubuweb online archive Burden, Chris. (director) Electronic Arts Intermix : “The TV Commercials 1973-1977”

Interviews Warwick, Kevin “The Choice – BBC Radio 4 with Michael Burke” Broadcast on BBC Radio 4. 14/06/2011) Bernays, Edward Video Interview via “The Museum of Public Relations”

(Other) Film Scripts online: Spinoza, Benedict de– “Ethics” (1677) Translated from the Latin by R.H.M. Elwes (1883) MTSU Philosophy Warwick, Kevin “Cyborg 1.0” (Wired Magazine Feb 2000) Web Archive –


Figure 21: Diagram of historical, social, technological and cultural ideas formed during the writing of this thesis.



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