I’m not quite sure yet where this blog is going or what its parameters are. It may well form the basis of a media art project, or perhaps a book. So far, it’s working as the gathering together of some photographs of mine, with notes and quotes from writing on media, technology, anthropology, and cultural theory. Like the accretion shrines it documents it will gradually grow with no particular end-state in mind. Marcel Mauss’s book A General Theory of Magic is a key point of reference, as are the anthropologist Alfred Gell’s seminal ideas on magic and technology, and I am very much encouraged by Jane Bennett’s argument for enchantment in the modern world. It overlaps with my media / games theory work: http://microethology.net, and my media art practice: http://apotropaicdevices.wordpress.com.
There are some rules:
- this isn’t about the occult, or rather it is not about the occult as it is commonly understood, nor am I interested in anyone calling themselves a witch, shaman, or even a stage magician / illusionist;
- the photographs are my own. Where other images are included they will be redrawn by me rather than copied digitally. This follows a logic (or illogic) of images as sympathetic magic – with significant connection between image and event. Drawing in itself has a vernacular ritual dimension. These are images of, and images as magic.
In fact, it’s not about individuals at all, but rather collective practices, behaviours and technics – none of which would be recognised by participants as magical or ritual. At most, some might be seen as superstitious. Some images simply suggest pagan, magic, the monstrous – by chance. Others are a document of contemporary enchanted technology, for example the charms and mascots that many car owners hang from their rear view mirror. Vernacular and playful divination is a particular fascination: from fortune-telling toys to the bottom-up establishment of wishing fountains in parks and shopping centres. Or the various practices of accumulating objects in public sites – padlocks denoting love, coins in shopping mall fountains again, or babies’ dummies (pacifiers) hanging on a Copenhagen tree, a liminoid rite of passage.
I’m particularly interested in computer simulation (including simulation games) as part of a genealogy of media of divination. Simulations predict futures. Robots and automata will make an appearance too – the animation of dead matter and artefacts that think and speak are always realistically magical.
I may include the supernatural technological imaginaries that attend the emergence of new media technologies and practices (e.g. the figuring of the distancing in time and space of early photography and audio recording as ghostly). Though these have been explored in depth elsewhere.
I’m also interested in the conceptual possibilities of thinking of modern media images as sympathetic magic.
So, it’s about the inextricability of the relationships between technology and culture, the persistence of premodern orientations to the world, an attention to modes of value, exchange and playful behaviour that seem to run counter to late capitalist culture, and the over-arching relations between all these.
Ball, Philip 2016. The Unseen: a history of the invisible. BBC Radio 4 series: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07g27lp/episodes/player
Baudrillard, Jean 1993. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage.
Bennett, Jane 2001. The Enchantment of Modern Life: attachments, crossings, and ethics. Princeton University Press.
Gell, Alfred 1988. ‘Technology and magic’. Anthropology Today4(2), April. pp.6-9.
Gell, Alfred 1992. ‘The technology of enchantment and the enchantment of technology’, in J. Coote and A. Shelton (eds) Anthropology, Art & Aesthetics, Oxford: Clarendon, pp.40-63.
Haunted Machines. http://hauntedmachines.com/
Ingold, Tim 2007. Lines: a brief history. London: Routledge.
Kirschenbaum, Matthew 2015. ‘Sand tables: a granular history of a speculative form’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaZzzZAzqJ0&feature=youtu.be
Kristensen, Juliette http://www.jckristensen.com/
Krotoski, Aleks 2014. Digital Human: magic. BBC Radio 4, 20th April.
Latour, Bruno 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Mauss, Marcel 2001 [1950 ]. A General Theory of Magic. London: Routledge.