The artist self defining as magician, particularly in the context of European Modernism, has been linked to the separation of production and consumption due to the industrialised processes of capitalism. As Thomas McEvilley describes in his essay, ‘Marginalia: Thomas McEvilley on the Global Issue’, “if we can say that during the progressive modernisation and concomitant fading of religious experience in Europe and North America the artist remained one of the few ‘sites’ or ‘castes’ in which a knowledge of both production and consumption was retained, then we can begin to see why the west invested its art with transcendental meaning. Perhaps this is why [Magiciens] tended to privilege traditional material processes; the fetishising of these processes as they are practiced both in Western culture and elsewhere reflects the yearning for some lost pre-industrial integrity of cultural ‘authenticity’.” (Making Art Global, 2014, p252)
The modern interest in magic and art dates back to the early 20th century and was particularly prevalent in Surrealism, with references to alchemy, tarot and shamanism. In 1957, the Surrealist leader, Andre Breton also published ‘L’Art Magique’, which included responses to the nature of magic art by writers, artists and ethnographers. (Dawn Ades, ‘Paolozzi, Surrealism, Ethnography’ in Lost Magic Kingdoms, 1985, p61)
Who are the magicians of the earth?
The concept of the Magicien was adopted by the curators of ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ as a method of standardising the concept of the artist in a global context. As the publicity for the retrospective of Magiciens describes: “Uniting artists from all over the world, “Magicien” was used as an umbrella term for artists using extremely different practices in cultures far distant from each other, where some possessed a pronounced otherness with regard to European culture…
“One of the aims of the Magiciens de la terre was to show the Western public what Jean-Hubert Martin called “visual and static objects, whose essential quality is to be vessels of the spirit” – a collection of works embodying a spiritual aspect and objects from ritual practices, which their creators had imbued with traditional codes while giving them a personal dimension. In this respect, Voodoo rites are particularly present in the exhibition archives, and so the terms “cosmogony”, “rites” and “rituals” are omnipresent in the surviving documentation”.
The title Magiciens de la Terre attempted to circumvent the problematic nomenclature of artist in a global context by equating the artistic transformation of materials with a kind of spiritual or alchemical practice. However, this attempt to create an equivalence between the artists, produced the effect of flattening out any socio-economic and political differences, thereby removing opportunities to celebrate difference within the production of art, as well as denying the different experiences and values placed upon artists by the international art market.
Responses from the Magiciens themselves
The concern about the title of the exhibition was acutely expressed through several of the works in the exhibition, particularly in the case of Barbara Kruger’s ‘Qui sont les Magiciens de la Terre?’ a large billboard suggesting a variety of professions, which functioned as a way of questioning the valorisation of the artist. (Making Art Global, 2014, p252)
In Kruger’s ‘Statement on Magiciens de la Terre’, which was reproduced in ‘Making Art Global’, she states: “I had problems with the methodologies of the exhibition and certainly with the title – I thought it was fraught with the conventional romantic notion of what art is and what it does. I knew that the only way my work could function productively within the exhibition would be to address the title and try to work critically in regards to it… My questions and criticisms did not extend to the actual work included in the show… And while the inclusion of difference, especially in terms of race, was a welcome addition to an exhibition with ‘global’ ambitions, somehow it all seemed a bit like escorting otherness into the capital”. (Making Art Global, 2014, p286)
Another artist who was interested in interrogating the exhibition concept was Daniel Buren. His four films, shown on video monitors at the exit to the final room at the Centre Pompidou, included interviews with the artists about their involvement in the show, and excerpts from films about the making of the exhibition. (Making Art Global, 2014, p149)
Magic and labour
My initial thoughts about the difference between art and magic (apart from Alfred Gell’s essay ‘The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology’) relate to ideas about the magician being required to hide their labour to produce the trick, whereas the artist needs to show theirs to produce context and value. With this in mind, I have decided to reproduce each of the images from the retrospective exhibition, spending an hour on each one. The image rights had been negotiated for the reproduction of the images and I discussed the possibility of my project with the conference organisers.
The framework of my project will reflect the equalisation of the works in both the original and retrospective exhibitions, and the hour long making process described both a way of allocating equal value to each of the works and also a typical unit of labour used to determine pay. The variable factor in this project will be the title, which, alongside appropriate credits will include the average hourly wage from the country of the artist’s origin, based on the Purchasing Power Parity framework. This aims to highlight the correlations between geographical, social and economic factors that the original exhibition ignored.