Gladiator is a video installation that digitally deconstructs the yearly budget ritual as performed by ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Seen by many as the most right wing Chancellor in British history for his ideologically driven ‘austerity’ policies, it is perhaps fitting that digital smoke and actual mirrors are used to separate the performer from the symbolic container of the nation’s finances. On one screen, the ritual is reduced to just the box itself, coming across as a levitating parlour trick. On the second screen, the box is removed and the Chancellor is digitally filled in, refocusing on the Chancellor’s expressions and movements. His raised fist echoes both a Roman emperor about to decide the fate of a gladiator and a magician appearing a penny from his sleeve.
Commissioned for Art of Magic, at STUK, Leuven, Belgium (2017) the installation version uses a ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ illusion uniting the two manipulated images back into a spectral third version of its former self.
At first sight, magic is by and large understood as entertainment magic: a deliberate and innocent form of entertainment where a magician deploys his/her skills to create a myriad of illusions in front of an audience, willing to suspend disbelief. The goal is to surprise, to dazzle and to enchant.– Karen Verschooren and Ils Huygens
However, the qualities of magic turn out to be much more pervasive within everyday life than merely present in the area of entertainment. Indeed, within the complex systems that run society: from politics, economics, science and technology to the military, they are very present and often much less innocent. It is in these areas that illusion turns into deception and a willingness suspension of disbelief becomes an unconscious subjection to the strategies of manipulation deployed. The end goal is no longer enchantment, but rather a matter of gaining control and power.
Artefact Expo: The Act of Magic, Stuk, Leuven, Belgium
Curated by Karen Verschooren, STUK / Ils Huygens, Z33
Participating artists: Troika (Germany/Germany/France), Verena Friedrich (Germany), Jens Brand (Germany), Eric Arnal-Burtschy (France), Marjolijn Dijkman (Netherlands), Suzanne Treister (UK), Center for Tactical Magic (US), Shana Moulton (US), Melanie Bonajo (Netherlands), Tim Etchells (UK), Jonathan Allen (UK), Hollington & Kyprianou (UK), Liz Magic Laser (US), Goldin+Senneby (Sweden), Femke Herregraven (Netherlands), Tobias Revell (UK), RYBN.org (France), BCL (Austria/Japan)