Ruth Sergel

Magic Box

Magic Box is an interactive Documentary on the life of the legendary magician Torrini & the relationship of cinema to magic.

Performing Technology,Project Development Studio (Danny)

The Magic Box is an interactive documentary on the life of legendary magician Torrini.
19th century magicians were the early adopters of the technology of their day. They were the first to get the power of early forms of cinema & propagated the technology across the globe. In a shockingly brief amount of time they were subsumed by the technology they had supported. The magician's role as the rock stars of their day was replaced by the movies & magician's were lucky to get a vaudeville gig.
At the same time as photography & cinema were being developed, new machines were evolving to show us what we suspected but could not sense. X-rays and telegraph all depended on us trusting the mediation of technology. At the same time there was an explosion in spirit photography and other explorations of the malleability of life & death. Why would one trust that the x-ray was real & the spirit photograph was not? Both could be seen as mediated physical artifacts.

The project was inspired by The Magician and the Cinema by Erik Barnouw. A lot of other books have contributed to my knowledge of the subject but most inspiring has been Phantasmagoria by Marina Warner.

Torrini was a world reknowned magician of the 19th century. Among his many credits are the invention of the 'Sawing a Woman in Half' trick which he premiered before Pope Pius VII in 1809. He is also credited with mentoring the brilliant magician Robert-Houdin.

People who suspect that there might be more to the world than we are led to believe.

User Scenario
There are viewers on either side of the box. When they look into the box with no film playing it looks empty and they can see each other's eyes. By pushing a slider on the side of the box they can shift between 4 short films. Each film pushes through to a deeper layer of the story of Torrini. If they reach the final film they might touch the other viewer's hand.

The box is wood & brass. Using Pepper's Ghost so that two different films can be seen at the same time. Isadora/Arduino for the tech.

I'm very klutzy at building the simplest of boxes