Magic Tricks In A World In Flux
As a filmmaker and a choreographer I’m interested in how perception works to draw attention to the materials of sound, light and bodies. I’m also interested in the uncanny: how the everyday can be made to appear strange. In this project having been introduced to writing in popular science about quantum mechanics I realise that the everyday is indeed very strange, but in ways I had never imagined before. The world of quantum mechanics as told through the writing of the physicist Carlo Rovelli reveals to the lay person a world of ‘events’ that invite us to question our most deeply held beliefs about matter and time. Quantum mechanics proposes that any beliefs about the stability of the world are an illusion, that matter at a quantum level is always in motion - a thought that both thrills and scares me.
When we first began to discuss the possibility of working with the image of the magic act there were fears that the work would stray into a kind of ‘kooky magician-scientists’ cliche - physics is most definitely not a magic trick. I would argue that there is depth to the magic act that plays directly to both our joy and our fears about the unstable nature of the world. I like to think that the magic act allows us a space to delight at our terror; physical laws can be rendered meaningless when objects pass through solid matter or most disturbingly when people suddenly disappear. In a theatre we are of course reassured by a contract that we enter into knowingly, we understand that what we see is a technical illusion. Although if we seek to understand the mechanics of the illusion what we might find out is that in the words of magician Penn Jillette behind every magic trick there is an ugly secret.
What quantum mechanics proposes is that behind the challenges to our beliefs about the world lies not an ugly secret, nor even a clever trick but a complex and rich mathematical world. A language of equations that reveal a set of possibilities that at the level of quanta we are indeed constantly in flux in a world in flux or that deep space is mirrored within us at a cellular level, that we are connected to the infinite through an atomic materiality.
In 7 Brief Lessons on Physics Carlo Rovelli writes that we construct images of the world through the limitations of our senses which along with other conditions are in a continuous state of evolution (Rovelli) It struck me that often what artists are doing is working to expand the limitations of our senses, through the creation of new languages. The last six months have been spent thinking about how to make an artistic language that can speak to if not the complexities of quantum physics then the emotional response that the idea of a world in flux elicits. One way to explore this has been in working with the aerialist Milton Lopes trying to find a way to make a mobile camera space that his body rolls around in as he works high above the ground. Another has been to think about having several spaces co-existing including introducing a story happening in 360 °space. Matthew Whiteside and I are currently working to develop an installation space that explores what is not immediately visible but becomes perceivable through plays with image, sound and light and this is where we will begin in the next phase of our project in the basement space in Summerhall.
Rovelli, C (2016) 7 Brief Lessons on Physics: London: Penguin Books
Rovelli C (2017) Reality Is Not What It Seems: London: Penguin Books