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MAGIC OF THE STATE

by Astrid N. Korporaal


Rana Hamadeh, The Big Board, or... “And before it falls, it is only reasonable to enjoy life a little”, 2013. Courtesy l’artista e Lisson Gallery, Londra / Milano / New York.

A recent curatorial collaboration between London’s Lisson Gallery and a new art initiative in Cairo called Beirut takes the different social and political contexts in which the organizations operate and makes them productive towards an examination of statecraft. Conceived as a platform for artistic exchange, The Magic of the State exists as a pair of interconnected exhibitions, presenting different works by the same group of contemporary artists.
Reflecting the mercurial changes in the constitution of contemporary Egypt, magic is brought into the equation between art and politics because of its power to transform. On different levels, the works perform a version of this transformative power. Ryan Gander’s contribution functions to connect disparate times, places and contexts through two Alchemy Boxes. In London, Ogenblik – (Alchemy Box # 101), contains personal objects related to the subject of “the instigation of an art school” while in Cairo, an actor is writing notes for a Hollywood script of a previous performance, I Had a Message from the Curator. Combining objects from both formal and informal contexts, the result is a questioning of personal and political agency within the space of imagination.
As Walter Benjamin already recognized, it may be necessary to move to the “less conscious image realm and in the dream world of the popular imagination” to make change possible. Goldin+Senneby’s contribution, Money will be like dross, features a model alchemical furnace with instructions and a license to replicate it. In an intervention to legalize a magical apparatus historically designed to make gold worthless and thereby abolish the “tyranny of money”, the artistic duo operate both on the level of reality and symbolism.
The Magic of the State takes its name by the eponymous book by anthropologist Michael Taussig, in which he explores the place of magic in constitution of the fetishes or invented wholes of State, history and economy. Taussig conceives the modern State as configured through a theatre of spirit possession into the living body of society. In a time of virtual economies, the evocation of a fictive nation-state is a way to explore how with disembodiment, presence expands.


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Performance and video with teleprompter. Featuring Ariel Freedman. Courtesy l’artista e Lisson Gallery, Londra / Milano / New York.

Converging stagecraft and statecraft, the exhibition in London opened with Liz Magic Laser’s performance Stand Behind Me, recorded and projected during the exhibition, in which a dancer replicates the body language of politicians without speaking, while a teleprompter plays the referenced speech fragments referenced. By repeating the physical gestures tied to political speech they are exposed both for their subjectivity and ritualistic power. The magician never reveals his tricks, but he leaves us in rapture of the transgression he performs: simultaneously increasing the doubt and the certainty of the physical laws in place.


Goldin+Senneby, Money will be like dross: A replica instruction for the August Nordenskiöld alchemy furnace, 2012, con Kunstgiesserei (Material Research), Johan Hjerpe (Designer), Daniel McClean (Legal Advisor), 2012. Replica instruction (including scale model, technical drawings, cut patterns, material sample, photo documentation) and Licence. Courtesy l’artista e Lisson Gallery, Londra / Milano / New York.

Perhaps the closest to Taussig’s conception of the way the modern State is configured – through a theatre of spirit possession into the living body of society – are the two most intricate installations: Rana Hamadeh’s The Big Board and Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s Cleda’s Chairs. The former, a newly commissioned work, combines the languages of criminology, epidemiology and theatre. Searching for a place of belonging, the afterlife of these stories form the incomplete body of the State. Cleda’s Chairs deals with ideas of magic, ritual and death by drawing connections with Pasolini’s film Notes for an African Oresteia, dealing with the idea of passing from traditional to urban and modern structures in 1970s Africa. Performing these unattached voices is a way of troubling the body, being able to travel across attachments and contexts through fictions, re-naming and re-turning through history, destroying as creators.

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