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Pure magic or smoke and mirrors?

INTERVIEW. As part of Gallery Weekend at Isabella Bortolozzi, English artist Ed Atkins and Berlin-based Brit Juliette Blightman believe in magic.

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Ed Atkins and Juliette Blightman

Part of Gallery Weekend, the hotly anticipated, bewitching group show at Isabella Bortolozzi asks Berlin to suspend its disbelief.

For Gallery Weekend, Isabella Bortolozzi brings together new and existing works from 18 of its impressive roster of artists in The Big Inexplicable Paravant Illusion Pt. 1, an exhibition that plays with the idea of magic and illusion, enlisting Berlin’s very own secretive Magischer Zirkel (Circle of Magicians), which includes some 100 trained conjurors and magicians, to enchant the rooms of Bortolozzi throughout the month.

English artist Ed Atkins unveils a film examining the house of surrealist André Breton, and Berlin-based Brit Juliette Blightman presents a mirror full of sky alongside yellow canaries, Man Ray prints and a vanishing Mickey Mouse. We asked them to look into their crystal ball and answer the questions swirling in the ether…

What relationship do you feel your work has to illusion and reality?

Ed Atkins: My work is heavily indebted to the tropes and effects of cinema, and literature in particular, both often understood as illusion insofar as their fundamental immateriality and speculative characteristics posit. Specifically, the application of tropes being the judicious use of the turn, the sleight of hand, a flourish of irony. The simultaneous suspension of both truth and falsity. Much of the work might be understood as a kind of necessary dissimulation in order that a truth, or a truthful affect, might be smuggled past … into the tender grasp of the audience.

Juliette Blightman: A close one.

What is reality anyway?

EA: The apprehension of an incredible opacity.

JB: Magic.

Does magic exist?

EA: Absolutely. As a perverse synonym for far more acceptable terms, it seems important to deliberately insist upon its use in language, for the simple fact that it seems so laughable. Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic being “a disease of language” seems pretty good to me.

JB: Yes.

What’s your favourite trick?

EA: The French drop.

JB: Disappearing.

What’s the most magical thing you’ve ever seen?

EA: An overnight death.

JB: An aeroplane taking off.

Who’s your favourite magician?

EA: Harry Houdini.

JB: Cerith Wyn Evans.

Do you believe in the supernatural?

EA: Not really, no.

JB: My daughter’s eyes are supernatural.

Has anything spooky ever happened to you?

EA: I remember being in the toilet of a bar in Cape Town washing my hands when two identical black cats climbed in through the open window and curled up either side of the sink, before the mirror, in complete symmetry.

JB: I thought I was Michael Jackson once in Vienna.

Who and what out of your influences are magical?

EA: Cinema is magic, as is literature, music – each offering the possibility for the supremacy of illusion over ‘reality’; as in, the effect of each is utterly true, irrespective of their relation to some sort of empirical reality. Respectively, and only for example, Robert Bresson, Roberto Bolaño, Ace of Base.

JB: Cocteau!

What’s your favourite film that delves into the supernatural?

EA: Perhaps Inland Empire. Or maybe Dead of Night.

JB: The Blood of a Poet.

Have you ever felt like you’ve been under a spell?

EA: Surely that’s what the arts offer?

JB: I still am…

What’s the closest you’ve come to transcendence?

EA: I don’t really believe in transcendence.

JB: Giving birth.

What does contemporary magic look like?

EA: It looks like the arts, at their pinnacle, which, I think, is what it’s always looked like. Or maybe it looks a little like Grant Morrison as rendered in a million polygonal shapes.

JB: You can’t see it. It is hidden in a Hinterhof up the stairs in a beautiful room with red velvet curtains.

How does your practice relate to that of a conjuror?

EA: A piece I completed last year, “A Tumour (In English)”, promised to conjure a tumour within each and every viewer or reader. The work itself – as tumour – materialised deep within the bodies of thousands of people. Image, sound, words each incanting, intoning, the presence of the work materially embodied.

JB: Seeing something beautiful, making it disappear and then reappear somewhere else.

Art: pure magic or smoke and mirrors?

EA: Currently, I think smoking is magical.

JB: Smoke and mirrors!

Artist: magician, conjuror, oracle or visionary?

EA: Artists are murderers and detectives. And perhaps oracles. Oracles, yes. Sibylline, breathing in the vapours.

JB: Artist.

What will you be showing in the exhibition?

EA: A new video work entitled “The Trick Brain”.

JB: I will be sawing myself in half. 

The Big Inexplicable Paravant Illusion PT. 1 | Isabella Bortolozzi, Schöneberger Ufer 61, Tiergarten, U-Bhf Mendelssohn- Bartholdy-Park, Tue-Sat 12-18, Through Jun 6