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by Teodora Pasquinelli

A Skype conversation with artist Adelita Husni-Bey, currently showing at the 57th Venice Biennale’s Italian Pavilion, and philosopher Federico Campagna, author of the forthcoming book Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality.

Adelita-Husni-Bey The reading

Adelita Husni-Bey, The reading / La Seduta, 2017. 57th Venice Biennale’s - Italian Pavilion. Single channel 4K video installtion, 7.1, dolby surround, with silicone props, 15:33” on loop 15:33”.

For the past few years, I have been closely following the production of New York-based artist Adelita Husni-Bey and the work of London-based philosopher Federico Campagna.
Both born in Italy in the 1980s, they have collaborated on several projects including Quattro Atti sul Lavoro at ON in Bologna (2016), and What would we do if we didn’t produce and consume? (Mousse, 2012). Over the past two years, following a far-ranging correspondence, the artist and the philosopher have realized two different but complementary works in the form of a film (The Reading/La Seduta, on show at the Italian Pavilion, in the 57th Venice Biennale) and a book (Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, forthcoming with Bloosmbury). These two compelling works seek a potential answer to the current crises, in the direction of an utterly ‘other’ world: the realm of Magic.

Adelita-Husni-Bey The reading

Adelita Husni-Bey, The reading / La Seduta, 2017. 57th Venice Biennale’s - Italian Pavilion. Single channel 4K video installtion, 7.1, dolby surround, with silicone props, 15:33” on loop 15:33”.

Magic is also the central theme of this year’s Italian Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, the Pavillion takes its name from the title of anthropologist Ernesto de Martino’s 1948 book, Il mondo magico. Alongside artists Roberto Cuoghi and Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Adelita Husni-Bey represents the Pavilion through her brand-new filmic work The Reading/La Seduta. This video-installation documents a workshop that took place in New York, during which a group of teenagers was invited to stage an unscripted tarot reading session based on ten cards produced by the artist. Each card represented a theme: Extraction, Soil, The Ongoing End, Dirt, Vulnerability, Value, The Colony, Abstract Threat, Simulation, Real Threat. The concepts on the cards were further explored in reference to the recent protests at Standing Rock (where an Indigenous tribe fought to protect their land from an extraction company), and in collaboration with invited artists, activists and theorists. Influenced both by De Martino’s work and by Campagna’s book, as well as by Silvia Federici and Evan Calder Williams, Husni-Bey reclaims ‘marginalised’ practices that are still present in some non-Western cultures, in order to explore the therapeutic and pedagogical potential of Magic and of the occult. The Reading is an intimate, mystical and political attempt to existentially disentangle its subjects from the logic of capitalism and of exploitation.

Adelita-Husni-Bey The reading

Adelita Husni-Bey, The reading / La Seduta, 2017. 57th Venice Biennale’s - Italian Pavilion. Single channel 4K video installtion, 7.1, dolby surround, with silicone props, 15:33” on loop 15:33”.

Whereas Husni-Bey looks at Magic as a potential tool for political and ecological resistance, Campagna’s approach considers it from a metaphysical and ontological perspective. In his forthcoming book Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, the philosopher develops a metaphysical reading of the world, through the lenses of two specular reality-systems: the currently hegemonic system of Technic, as exemplified by the tyranny of the ‘descriptive language’ of finance, production and history; and the radically alternative cosmogony of Magic. In the book, the sophisticated anatomy of Magic recalls the non-negotiable value of existence, as that ‘something’ which cannot be measured or grasped by Technic: the ineffable as life.
Campagna’s and Husni-Bey’s works are profoundly intertwined in their effort to imagine a new fabric of the world. Whether a method of political resistance, or as a form of metaphysical redemption, both of them place Magic at the core of their respective proposals, ultimately suggesting a sharp possibility of emancipation for both living and supposedly ‘non-living’ matter, for visible and invisible entities.

At the beginning of September 2017, Campagna has been invited to discuss his work at the Italian Pavilion in Venice where he will also take part to a workshop led by Husni-Bey.

Teodora Pasquinelli: At the beginning of the chapter on Magic, in his book Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, Campagna writes: “Yet, the relationship between Magic and Technic, isn’t just one of fundamental alterity. From a certain perspective, Magic can also be considered as a form of therapy to Technic’s brutal regime over that world, which it built in its own image. When we began looking at Technic, our earliest observations concerned the present paralysis of our ability to act and to imagine, and the crisis of our very sense of reality”
In relation to The Reading, does Magic act as an alternative form of therapy?

Adelita Husni-Bey: Absolutely. I think one thing that stuck with me when I was researching and reading Federico’s draft was thinking through Magic as a potential pedagogical, therapeutic tool. In his book Federico talks about the ‘crisis of imagination’ as the inability to break away from this obsessive productive system that tends to ‘package’ everything, and magic as a potential antidote. In some ways what Federico’s book also made me think about in more detail, was the idea that there is a sort of “rational” or “scientific” protocol, a prioritising in the reading of reality that is strictly related to the production and the upholding of what Federico defines as the regime of the Technic. I found this very inspiring because I started thinking about Magic in political terms, in terms of those kinds of practices that try to connect to reality through radically different means that do not correspond to this kind of positivist or “machinic” understanding of the world: I started thinking through what kinds of ‘magical’ practices actually resist and work through notions such as a ‘familial’ relationship to that which is not considered ‘human’ or ‘alive’ (an animal, a river, a rock) in a ‘modern’ or ‘western’ understanding of reality. I was also particularly interested in the practice of tarot reading as a sort of ‘queering’ practice (borrowing from Judith Butler), as in a practice of alterity in parallel as well as in opposition to the Technic. 
During my research, I was thinking about the way in which tarot reading – which by its nature it is based on a dialectical approach – was born as a card playing ‘game’ (it is unclear exactly when or where but around the 14th Century in Italy, some accounts say centuries earlier in Egypt) and only after developed into a divinatory practice. In this sense, the conversational aspect of it was born out of ‘play’, which is also, significantly, at the roots of my own work, since my artistic practice deals a lot with the production of imaginaries through a dialectical approach. So, my interpretation of the Magical cosmogony was to try to think about practices that break away from this very strict idea of how capitalist production is enforced through what I described as a ‘queering’ potential of magic and its capacity to produce alternative understandings of reality through ‘play’ and discussion. In this sense, I think the discursive nature of a tarot session points to overcoming the ‘crisis of imagination’ Federico describes. ‘Magic’ and therapy may in fact be conjoined in the pedagogical act, as the affirming qualities of talking, feeling each other’s bodies, ritual and presence produce a type of healing which we can now paradoxically be more aware of, considering the physical isolation and alienation that the regime of the Technic has subjected us to.

TP: As just mentioned by Adelita, in your upcoming book titled Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality you conceived a philosophical work structured according to two specular reality systems: the regime of Technic - that reflects our present condition based on the ferocious logics of production - and the poetic cosmogony of Magic. Can you better define these two terms?

Federico Campagna: The starting point is the simple acknowledgement that we are unable to have a completely unmediated relationship with the world. Our relationship with the world is always mediated. Kant used to say that our perception of the world is mediated through a number of categories that are inbuilt in us, as humans. For example, we perceive the world in space and time, even though space and time don’t really belong to the world in itself. As well as these inbuilt categories, however, we also filter the existent through cultural categories, that define our idea of reality: I call it a reality-system. The world we live in, and indeed any world in any moment of history, is the product of a certain reality-system through which it emerges. A reality-system is a filter that defines the metaphysical assumptions of a certain age: it says what is understood as existence, what kind of entities exist and which ones don’t, how they exist, etc. Reality-systems change over time, and the passage from one to the other typically marks the passage from one historical age to another.
I have called the reality-system of our present age, Technic. Technic is a certain way of arranging the metaphysical filter through which the world emerges to our experience. In my book, I describe Technic’s reality-system by going through the specific elements that make up its structure – borrowing from Neo-Platonic philosophy, I call them hypostases. The defining idea of Technic, is that ‘the world’ is composed exclusively of what falls under the grasp of descriptive language. Only what can be captured by descriptive language – whether the language of science, economics, politics, identity, and so on – only that is legitimately part of the world. Anything else, whatever fails or refuses to be reduced to a function of descriptive language, is banned from the world as a fantasy or superstition, and is pushed into the pit of mere nothingness.
In the second part of the book I talk about an alternative reality-system, which I called Magic. Magic is a different way of modulating the metaphysical parameters of our reality-system, and thus a different way of defining what exists in the world. It’s an alternative form of cosmogonic, or world-making imagination. As opposed to Technic’s focus on ‘absolute language’, Magic’s reality-system is based around the notion of ‘the ineffable as life’. The central concept here is that there is something ineffable at the heart of existence and of each existent – something irreducible to any linguistic category. According to Magic, this ineffable dimension of existence constitutes the living heart of each and every existent – while also playing the role of main cosmogonic principle in Magic’s reconstruction of reality.
So,Technic and Magic are two different forms of the process of metaphysical imagination: they are two alternative reality-systems, producing two alternative ‘worlds’, each with its own specific range of the possible. Our historical era has decisively chosen one over the other, but it is ultimately up to us which one we want to adopt in our own daily practice of cosmogony.

TP: Imagination seems to be a very relevant aspect of your philosophical work. What is imagination? What does it do? Why it is so important?

FC: Imagination is a strange thing. On the one hand, through imagination we are able to modify the parameters of our reality-system, that is, we can adjust the focus of the lens through which we see the world emerge to our experience. On the other hand, it is also the tool through which we are able to re-access the world-making filter that we have thus established. Through imagination we can build the archetypes that define our world, but at the same we can also go back to find them again, and to change them.
Actually, imagination is both a tool and a place. The French philosopher and historian of Persian philosophy, Henry Corbin used to talk about a Mundus Imaginalis (the world of the imaginal), an ontological dimension that is placed – to use Western terms – between the things in themselves and the phenomena as they emerge to our experience. The archetypes exist in this Mundus Imaginalis. Imagination both creates this place, and it is this place, where we can find and modify our metaphysical archetypes. The problem now is: who enacts this imagination? Who is ultimately the person that imagines? Is the dreamer part of the dream? To a certain extent yes, to another extent no. As we imagine, we ourselves are already the product of our imagination, in that we are pre-determined by our previous imagination. But to another extent there is a dimension to us that is pre-imaginal, existing somehow beyond the frontier of the Mundus Imaginalis. This is the ‘ineffable as life’ which I place as the first hypostasis of Magic’s reality-system.

TP: Through a workshop and a tarot reading involving a group of teenagers, The Reading is a pedagogical project that focuses on themes such as ‘Vulnerability’, ‘Extraction’, ‘End’ and ‘Soil’. Considering your body of work as a whole, one thing that  emerges is your keen interest in anarchism, autonomy and alternative education as tools that have the potential to create mini-utopian worlds.
How do these concepts build the narrative of the work?

AHB: What I’m trying to do is to analyze our current situation with a group of people who are coming of age in a moment when the situation is developing. In this sense, it’s less about producing specific ‘mini-utopian worlds’ and more about being conscious of the ways in which you can co-create a narrative or an imaginary as a group (and this can also be ‘dystopian’), which I think is very central to the tarot reading as a methodology too. Usually, when you are engaging in a tarot reading session you are essentially bringing an intimate question or problem to the table and it’s often related to your own personal life. The difference here is that the reading was a session that tried to speak to a much larger question, in this sense it tried to break down the existing division between what is understood as an intimate problem and a much wider social  issue or imaginary. If you think about extractivism for example, it is an event with a huge impact on our lives (it affects our ability to own/use technology while also being a very poisonous operation for the land on which it occurs) thus, it cannot be disentangled from our personal sphere, but how do we make sense of our personal implication in something so large?
During the workshop, we didn’t only engage in what you see on the screen - which is essentially a tarot reading session - but we spent a lot of time thinking through the different topics that were represented on the cards in a few sessions before we filmed The Reading. The ten cards that I drew – which structurally represent the 10 Arcanas present in a standard tarot deck – were based in part on the Standing Rock protests, and in part on some theories I was reading at the time, Federico’s book, Silvia Federici’s texts and others such as Combined and Uneven Apocalypse (2011) by Evan Calder Williams. Evan, Hannah Black, Elizabeth Povinelli and Julian Noisecat were invited to speak to the group, and talk through the topics presented on the cards, during the first part of the workshop which took place in the Highline offices in February 2017 and was not filmed.
Evan’s presentation for example focused on a card I drew thinking about his work, the card’s name is the ‘Ongoing End’. In Combined and Uneven Apocalypse Evan describes the ways in which imaginaries of the ‘apocalypse’ – epitomised in films like Armaggedon, and focusing on an American-centric vision – tend to develop a fantasy of the end of the world as a primary white-capitalist event. Whereas the ‘end’ is actually an ongoing process to which disenfranchised and non-white people have always been subjected to – as in they were, and are, always under the constant threat of destruction through colonialism and its aftereffects: poverty, disenfranchisement, high rates of imprisonment, lack of political agency and so forth. In the context of Standing Rock what became clear was that ‘the ongoing end’ was something that Native Americans has been suffering since Columbus landed in 1492. Another card,‘Vulnerability’ is based on the idea that our frailties as humans are uneven, unjustly distributed, developed and sustained through ongoing dynamics of power that privilige the economic regime we live under, beyond our capacity to survive in it.

To continue addressing vulnerability from another angle, Elizabeth Povinelli was specifically interested in the categories of the living and the non-living and how these are perceived under an extractivist realm. Of course, from a neo-liberal perspective, it’s very convenient to think about certain substances as non-living, categorising them as something that can be extracted, used and sold. Thinking through this paradigm, a specific example she gave us that I found particularly interesting, was about a court case based on the desecration of Two Women Sitting Down, a native rocky site in Australia that was considered a landmark for the Kunapa people. An extractive company, OM Holdings, had gained the rights to extract manganese ore (which interestingly has a red, blood-like color to it) from very close to these two rocks formations  that, according to the indigenous people, were alive. According to the extractive company, of course, these rocks weren’t alive. Once the company started digging the rock eventually crumbled, one of the two women fell apart and the entire mountain was bleeding this red ore. It was a very fraught moment for the Kunapa people and their allies, and they eventually took the extractive company to court; the most fitting accusation would have been murder. Of course, the court - it being a colonial court - didn’t accept this version of reality, of the rock being alive. Eventually the company got fined one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for desecration, but this is as far as the court was willing to go.
After these presentations we began the theatrical part of the workshop, I introduced exercises based on the Theatre of the Oppressed - initiated by Augusto Boal in the 70s - to think through the 10 concepts on the cards: The Colony, Soil, Extraction, Vulnerability, Abstract Threat, Simulation, Real Threat, Dirt, The Ongoing End, Value. For example, we used exercises called ‘image theater’ to come to terms with notions of Soil and Colony non verbally. Parts of these performances we structured can be seen in the film, as intervals in the tarot reading session.
A lot of the pedagogical work that I do is centred around analyzing specific questions and thinking through a discursive framework -in this case it using cards- as a methodology to come to terms with the subjectivity of everybody in the room, reflecting on how we are embedded within the system in the ongoing struggle. This is messy work, there isn’t a right or wrong position to be in but rather a recognition and analysis of how the position is constructed and how we are implicated and responsible for its production/ dismantling.

TP: In what way does the notion of the Ineffable as opposed to the one of descriptive language connect with the concepts represented by Adelita’s cards? 

FC: I will respond to this by going back to what Adelita was just saying – particularly in regards to two aspects. Firstly, when Adelita looks at capitalism she looks at the way in which it puts to work, exploits and destroys the world. This kind of relationship with the world (work, exploitation, destruction) relies on the metaphysical framework of Technic. It can take place only when the world has emerged through a reality-system that has reduced it to the dimension of descriptive language. This is the metaphysical foundation of late capitalism and of post-Fordism: the transformation of things into linguistic positions, and the recombination of these positions into series of production. Outside the productive series there is nothing – literally, no-thing can have a legitimate ontological status outside of it.  Thus, ‘work’ is a central notion to understand the way in which Technic produces the world and relates to it.
Secondly, in reference to the notion of Soil mentioned by Adelita, I think about the example of the Two Women Sitting Down who were considered to be alive by the indigenous tribe. As you might recall, the reality-system of Magic rests on a central metaphysical principle, which I defined as the Ineffable as Life. According to this principle, at the heart of every existent lies an ineffable kernel – the ineffable dimension of existence in itself – which constitutes the ‘living’ dimension of each thing and which runs unified and uninterrupted through all things. I come to this claim, by drawing in particular from the work of Vedanta philosophers like Adi Shankara and of Islamic philosophers like Mulla Sadra and Ibn Arabi. This living dimension is present in every single existent – though with different intensities – and it is the same in all of them.  This is a dimension that cannot be put to work, exploited or destroyed, because it is irreducible to the categories of descriptive language through which such manipulations can take place. Magic takes up this dimension as the originating principle of its entire cosmogony, thus creating a world in which it is the ‘ineffable as life’, and not the categories of descriptive language, that are endowed with the most authentic form of existence.
When we witness a meeting between Technic’s linguistic capture of the world and this living dimension – as in the case of the Two Women Sitting Down – we see that Technic always attempts to reduce the Ineffable to a dead letter by putting it to work.

TP: Do you think Magic is able to create new forms of ‘value’ and ‘currency’ opposed to the ones inscribed in the world of Technic as identified by Federico?

AHB: Hannah Black brought some interesting insights to the workshop, which I’ll try to paraphrase insufficiently here. She described how in order to ascribe value to something, something else must be rendered valueless or worthless. Following this reasoning and relation to the idea of the irreducible – i.e. that which cannot be reduced and which we used in the workshop interchangeably with the idea of the ineffable (that which cannot be grasped) –  value can only be ascribed to something which can be reduced (packaged, extracted, prepared) or at least temporarily be made worthless (it has no significance therefore it can be used). Magic in this sense, if its cosmogony really pertains to the ineffable cannot produce a value or currency, it needs to be precisely beyond value and currency in order to remain ‘magic’ and be both worthless and beyond worthy, beyond value. Our last speaker, Julian Noisecat, a First Nations native, talked to us about colonisation and its effect on indigenous people, in particular on the origin myths of countries, nations and how the imaginary of the colony produces displacement as much as physical violence as a result of a resolute buying in to those myths. This is something we all engage in, seeing as even the workshop was taking place on Lenape territory, Manahatta, currently known as Manhattan. In his take on the concept of worth I could infer that the currency of Julian’s ‘magical cosmogony’, his people’s attempts at protecting the ineffability and irreducibility of water for example were challanged by the more powerful and hegemonic 3.8 billion dollar pipeline investment which didn’t see water as ineffable, irreducible or beyond value but exactly the opposite. So, here the two cosmogonies’ notions of value are in conflict.


TP: At the beginning of your book you quote Ernesto De Martino’s Il Mondo Magico – which is also the title of the exhibition at the Italian Pavilion – particularly in reference to his analysis of the problem of ‘presence in/of the world’. What is presence? How is this notion addressed in your work?

FC: Ernesto de Martino was truly prescient in his way of addressing the problem of presence in the world. In his 1948 book Il Mondo Magico he was already looking at a number of issues that are coming to the fore only now, 60 years later. De Martino’s main problem was how in archaic societies – so-called ‘primitive’ societies – we have a situation in which a person’s presence in the world and the presence of the world itself are never stable or fixed, but are always threatened by the arrival of something that could disintegrate them. The magician functions as a ‘reality therapist’, that is as somebody who is able to bring presence back into an individual and ultimately into the world. In his book, De Martino points out that this situation is only marginally relevant to 20th century Western societies – for example in the case of patients suffering from schizophrenia.
Today, alas, the situation seems to have changed dramatically: we can finally say that schizophrenia has become a generalized condition of our time. De Martino’s analysis seems to apply more to us today, than to archaic societies. What happens in our present time is a strange and perverted version of Magic: we are in a situation in which our ineffable existence is denied, and all that is allowed is our presence in the world. But our presence in the world is regulated and held hostage by the productive regime of Technic. The only two options available are to be part of the world as a linguistic unit of production, or to be expelled from the world. But since according to Technic there is nothing outside the world – there is nothing outside the dictionary – whatever is expelled from the world and from the dimension of linguistic presence, is expelled from ontology altogether. If you fall out of the linguistic series of production – such as work, citizenship, identity, etc. – you become extinct before you are dead: you become a non-entity. Existents are only allowed to be part of the world, inasmuch as they coincide with their ability to push forward the infinite growth of the linguistic series of production – were they ever to fail or to refuse to do so, they would be banished from ontology altogether. The consequences of this regime, as we know well, span from the epidemics of psychopathology that plagues us today, to the establishment of a world-wide system of biopolitical exploitation, to the relentless destruction of the natural environment.
In order to escape from this horrible metaphysical blackmail, we need to imagine a form of fundamental ‘reality therapy’. This is what I describe as Magic: the path towards a reconstruction of reality that goes beyond the notion of linguistic presence, and towards the notion of ineffable existence. Presence is negotiable, Ineffable existence is not negotiable. The ineffably living heart of each existent, can never be destroyed completely – and whenever it’s pushed outside of the world, it replies very proudly that the world is not everything. That’s why, in its accomplished form, Magic’s world is at the same time the world and a space beyond the world. We are at the same time with one foot within time and one foot in eternity. Magic’s therapy reminds us that not everything is at stake in the world: that our most fundamental dimension, and the most fundamental dimension of every existent is not negotiable and cannot be put to work. Thus, Magic acts both as a consolation and as a different cosmogony. I take Ernesto De Martino’s intuition of the crisis of presence (and of imagination), and I try to develop it also in reference to our contemporary challenges.

TP: Talking about the role of the magician, do you find any parallels between magical techniques and artistic practice, or between the artist and the magician?

AHB: If we go back to Federico’s analysis of the crisis of imagination and how ‘magic’ and its cosmogony can potentially break that crisis we have a very interesting analogy between art and magic. In the sense that cultural artifacts, art so to speak (and I interpret this concept very widely, from memes, to films, to paintings, to talismans), have a crucial role in visually questioning what is possible. They shape us, and rewire us in silent ways.
If it were possible to appropriate the figure of the magician or the witch against the ways in which they have been marginalised and infantilised within a capitalist context I think we could draw a bridge, but because I am a capitalist subject I don’t know if I can truly think of those figures otherwise. So if I were to think of my role in the specific context of the workshop, I would maybe be closer to a what Federico decribes as a ‘reality-therapist’ or a mentor, a collaborator, or maybe just a person in a room. This doesn’t mean that magicians, witches or curanderas don’t retain their symbolic power, but I think it should be intentionally and sensitively brought into another frame. I think in Silvia Federici’s book there are a lot of interesting conversations around the ways in which the figure of the witch becomes instrumentalized as a way to oppress women, producing a sort of domesticated, essentialist vision of the work healers were doing at the time: targeting, castigating and marginalizing women who were single, who were older, who were practicing magic, or who were engaging in practices where disapproved by the patriarchy. So ‘witches’ were healers, oppressed and marginalised healers as they refused to speak ‘scientifically’. Art maybe carves a space in a similar way, in that it refuses to be a positivist, exact science and therefore opens possibilities currently infantilised, marginalised and refuted by whatever is considered ‘objective’ but I would refrain, although sometimes I’d like, to call myself a witch.

TP: Going back to The Reading, both the film and the installation in the space of the Pavilion contain silicone objects shaped as human body parts. What is their role in the context of the work?

AHB: Before the workshop started I had prepared a series of silicon mouths, eyes and arms with LED components that made them glow.The idea was to make them out of materials that, in some ways, were sort of laterally linked to a ‘futurability’, i.e. with a sense that they might be plausibly used in the future. During the workshop, the teens were asked to engage with the props through theater exercises based on the themes present on the tarot cards we’d just discussed with our speakers, Evan, Elizabeth, Hannah and Julian. These body elements were used to hint at the notion of a prosthetic future to open up a discourse on how the relationship to our body is changing. How do you engage with something that ‘looks’ like a body, maybe acts like on but is not a body? How do notions of ‘enhancement’ (i.e. the body and life can be better with this techonological prosthetic) factor in ideas of oppression? There is a scene in one of the performances where a pair of silicone lips are pressed against Amanata’s mouth by another participant, Farhan. The lips actually impede rather than enhance speech in this scene. I wrote a note in my phone around this time: ‘like the kinds of adjustments our bodies will need to make in order to cater to technology, like blindness’. I’m thinking about how these prosthetics symbolise a reversal in the notion of service, that in order to use these objects, these technologies rooted in extraction, there’s some sort of trauma that needs to occur to our bodies, so who is ‘servicing’ who? It’s obviously a much more complicated relationship than just having a phone you buy and use to interact with others and ‘enhance’ your experience of lived life, as it’s usually sold to us.

TP: In both of your works a strong interest in the notion of ‘otherness’ emerges, whether this comes from an artistic, political or a philosophical perspective.
How do you relate your works in their use of this notion?

FC: I think that Adelita and I have complementary ways of looking at things. I usually tend more towards the mystical/theological angle, while Adelita often privileges the political angle and the way that we can change reality in that sense. For example, you can look at ‘otherness’ in two fundamental ways. The first way, is to see things as relatively other to each other. This is the relationship between words in a dictionary: they are all different from each other, but they are all part of the same context of enunciation, through which they assign meaning to each other. Their relative difference is the mark of their own identity. This is the level of descriptive language, in which things are eventually reduced to their own position within a linguistic context: their linguistic position assigns identity and difference to them, while they are nothing in themselves. Conversely, I focus primarily on the idea of a radical otherness. What is radically other at once escapes the dictionary, while also sustaining it from the outside. Think of a novel, instead of a dictionary: the life of which the page speaks is irreducible to the sum of its words, yet it is also what sustains the narration. In my book, I talk about this radical otherness in reference to the way in which we imagine the fundamental composition of the world. A world is like a book, within which there are relationships of relative otherness – for example, the things in the world are defined by their different positions in the context of the language of biology, sociology, economics, etc. Yet, there is also a dimension of radical otherness, that at once exceeds and sustains the book of the world from the outside. Everything in the world contains both these levels within itself. From a certain angle, each thing is definable like a word in a dictionary – its identity and difference are the product of its relationship with its peers within a certain context of enunciation. From another angle, all things share a radical otherness – not to each other, but to their own linguistic position as defined by the context of the world, and ultimately to the world as such. Through this perspective, all things are ‘one’: an ineffable one, running uninterrupted throughout the existent. Indeed, this ineffable kernel at the heart of each thing is the purest form of existence – what in my book I define as ‘life’. This is the intuition at the heart of Magic’s reconstruction of reality: while Technic has built a world made up only of relative alterity, Magic seeks to complement this level with the radical alterity that Sufi thinkers call ‘unity of existence’.
The complementarity between my work and Adelita’s, rests on the relationship between these metaphysical speculations and political action: the range of the ‘possible’ in politics is largely influenced by the metaphysical framework through which a certain world emerge. And conversely, the choice of our metaphysical axioms largely depends on the ethics that we wish to pursue.

AHB: I want to answer this question by first speaking to differing notions of the ‘ineffable’ and how a denial of the ineffable might be at the root of othering. In relation to Standing Rock it made me think about the dimension in which the indigenous population in South Dakota referred to themselves as ‘water protectors’. I recognize the Ineffable as the irreducible link between the self and resources for livelihood such as water but also on an even deeper level – even though I am not indigenous and my understanding can thus only be partial – ineffability is the very thing that has resisted and slipped through the cracks of constant colonization and the regime of the Technic. In these very practical examples that were mentioned before - Standing Rock in South Dakota and Two Women Sitting Down in Australia or even thinking about the No TAV movement in Italy - we can see this notion of an unbreakable bond between what is providing life and life itself. They are one and the same, in that cosmogony. Of course, capitalism - that perceives itself as the progressive movement towards the future - portrays those who fight these battles as a sort of furious, irrational ‘medieval’ guardians of the land. It refutes the irreducible link, it tries to break it. In the work that I am doing, but also in the work of other artists and thinkers - such as artist Duane Linklater, Candice Lin or theorist Gene Ray - who work with the idea of vividly de-marginalizing this fight for the irreducible qualities of life, there is a moving beyond being constantly rendered on the periphery, of being portrayed as archaic. I think it’s also interesting to think about how otherness has this temporal dimension, as in that capitalism is always marked as the ‘formidable future’ and ‘others’ anything else by ascribing pre-modern tendencies to it, accusing it of lacking a claim on the real and through the ‘now’.
Going back to the notion of otherness, my work tends to focus on the immediate political and social implications of othering, while Federico’s speaks more to analysing the metaphysical constructs that bring this battle into existence. I understand it as the production of an artwork that  speaks to the current narrative, visual, pedagogical processes that de-marginalizes battles defending the irreducible quality of our bond to the earth while Federico’s work tends to the description of how the marginalisation occurred philosophically.

TP: Is Magic a form of resistance that could potentially bring, I dare to say, some form of ‘happiness’?

AHB: There is definitely a potential therapeutic and perhaps relieving aspect in sitting down and talking with a group of people but I don’t think you could intrinsically link the two (Magic and Happiness) as I think it has more to do with the ways in which ‘Magic’ is weaponized. If you think through the lenses of how occult practices function as counter-hegemonic forces to that disenfranchised groups of people, then, that kind of therapeutic element in Magic and the Sacred can bring, I suppose, some degree of happiness or empowerment. Again, it’s a complex cultural construct that also depends on what kind of function the Sacred and the Magical have in a particular historical period and if that has a counter-hegemonic authority and power to it. On another note though I think happiness and empowerment don’t always go hand in hand. Sometimes sadness is empowering too. I remember reading this text by Sarah Ahmed on Feministkilljoy entitled ‘Smile!’ where she writes ‘feminisms of color are archives of anger’, so there’s power in anger, being upset and sadness that operate in springing one into action. Happiness is too often marketed as the only feeling one should have, especially here in the US and that’s dangerous as in today’s political climate it becomes a platitude. 

FC: I think the problem is not happiness as such, but health. Every specific reality system has its own notions of health. Now, we can choose between alternative understandings and notions of health. This is our choice and it’s where our imagination become crucial. ‘Health’ is a state in which something functions properly within a specific reality system. Thus, there is a form of health that relates to Technic’s reality-system, and one that relates to Magic’s reality-system. According to Technic, to be healthy means to be reduced to our dimension as linguistic, productive units: the more you coincide with your productive dimension as graspable by descriptive language, the more you are healthy. A typical example can be found in mental health, as it is understood nowadays: you might want to kill yourself but as long as you are productive and functional you are basically fine. Conversely, in Magic’s reality-system to be ‘healthy’ means to take up the form of a living paradox, with one foot inside the world and one foot outside from it. Magic’s health consists precisely in a certain way of shaping reality and the world, so that every existent (such as you and I, or any object that we apprehend) is considered as a coincidentia oppositorum, a coincidence of opposites such as presence and existence, ineffability and language, time and eternity. Magic doesn’t expect one to give up their worldly presence in favour of a complete coincidence with their ineffable dimension, but allows for a form of ‘disentangled presence’ within the world – according to which nothing is fully graspable by descriptive language, but anything can inhabit their linguistic dimension through the caveat of the ‘as if’. I am ‘as if’ Federico, ‘as if’ a man, ‘as if’ Italian, I don’t identify with any of my names – because at the same time I’m the exact same kernel of ineffable existence that animates this other person, or this table, or a prehistoric tiger, or this idea.
So, among the different, possible understandings of the notion of ‘health’, I suggest to take up that proposed by Magic’s reality system. But, If possible I would like to ask something to Adelita.

TP: Sure, go on…

FC: Adelita, because of your personal experience you are basically the embodiment of a certain Mediterranean personality, both because of your biography but also because you are a migrant who brings around magic concepts. How do you think that a certain mediterranean spirit works within the context of a ‘northern’ technical understanding of the world?

AHB: I was recently studying ancient Berber tattoos, which I guess is part of my ‘Libyan heritage’. What I found really striking is that, as with many ancient symbols, they have both a productive and protective meaning. For example, I was thinking through in the ways in which the ‘Warida’ which is a flower and at the same time a rectangle with a cross in is both meant to represent something to be picked and used and something that supposedly embodies a protection from harm, as in an evil eye. My understanding is that there should be a returning to thinking through these symbologies, where both productive and healing forces can be re-hinged together. I tattooed a warida on my forearm this week to remind myself.


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