The Barbican commissioned artist Leandro Erlich to design an illusion that uses a giant, tilted mirror and a building facade that lays flat on the ground to make it look like its participants are defying gravity and scaling walls. The piece is called Dalston House and it's sited on the foundation of a house that was bombed in the Blitz. Erlich will be giving a talk about the piece tomorrow (Thursday) night at the site of the installation: 1-7 Ashwin Street, Dalston, E8 3DL.
John sez, "The Falvey Library at Villanova University has just digitized a turn of the century guide to mechanical toys and small automata. They've been digitizing a lot of very interesting material--see more here."
Back in 2009, I wrote about Taschen's amazing "Magic 1400s-1950s," which presently goes for about $300. Taschen is reissuing the book in a cheaper edition, which'll cost you $42.22 when it comes out on July 1. Here's a review on Crackajack, providing a timely reminder of what a stupendous book this is. And here's what Boing Boing reader Peacelove said about the first edition:
PeaceLove sez, "Cory's recent post mentioning the 'books as objects' phenomenon compels me to mention the extremely delectable new Taschen book, Magic, 1400s-1950s. It's gargantuan, classy, profusely illustrated and expensive but if you are a magician or magic fan, you've just found the perfect holiday gift (hint, hint). Authors Mike Caveney and Jim Steinmeyer, along with contributor Ricky Jay, are all professional magicians, scholars and historians of the first rank. This is a serious work, as well as a gigantic love letter to the 500+ 'golden years' of magic."
R Paul Wilson sez, "I've just released a short film about magic and nostalgia. 'The Magic Box' is based on experiences and memories that many of us share and follows a handmade magic trick as it passes from one generation to the next."
This is as sweet as a sweet thing.
The new documentary about esteemed magician, magic historian, and actor Ricky Jay opens next week at New York City's Film Forum with screenings in many other cities to follow in May and June. Jay is a fantastically curious and entertaining fellow and I can't wait to see this film. "Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay"
Dug North sez, "The book titled 'Two Odd Volumes on Magic & Automata; has been available in a printed version for a while, but is now available as a PDF. The book is offered for free from LEAFpdx, but I am sure donations would be welcome."
The Sette of Odd Volumes published two fantastic books in the early 1890s. The Sette was a club of book collectors and eccentric personalities in London. It was founded by the famed book dealer Bernard Quaritch in 1878. He collected members for his club much like he did rare editons: each had an expertise in some unusual specialty.
William Manning was a club member who gave an after dinner talk on his recollections of the great magician Robert-Houdin. When Manning was a young boy he met the great magician and befriended Robert-Houdin's sons. His 'recollections' about Robert-Houdin were later published as a small book. Reading it today, over a hundred years after the speech was originally given, one is still struck by how forward thinking Robert-Houdin was and how down to earth. He developed many famous magic acts that are still performed today. Originally trained as a clockmaker, Robert-Houdin built all his own automata and magic props. He experimented with electricity and even wired his house with clocks and alarms in the 1860s which must have seemed very magical indeed. Manning captures the spirit of his admired friend. His words make the magician seem very contemporary and even more remarkable.
As for the men whose penises were stolen, several eyewitnesses assured me that the appendages did indeed shrink dramatically. I can’t offer such an intimate eyewitness account myself, but I did visit one of the men at his home, and he clearly seemed to be suffering. He lay propped on one elbow, slack and listless in loose sweatpants, on a woven mat in the shade outside his house. A handful of friends kept him company. Over cups of sweet tea, I asked them about how they understood the recent events."Missing Pieces"
Penis snatching, they said, was a means of supplying an illicit and lucrative trade in organs. Cameroonians and Nigerians—people from places “where they have multistory buildings”—were seen as particularly well versed in the business. “You see how advanced Cameroon is?” someone said. “It’s because they are so strong in commerce of all kinds, including in genitals and scalps.” The stolen organs, my companions said, are sold to occult healers for use in ceremonies, or else they are quickly fenced back to victims of penis snatching for a price. But the real money was to be made in Europe. One man who had spent some time living in Cameroon said he had heard of a woman there who was nabbed by airport security while trying to smuggle several penises to the Continent inside a baguette.
A few excerpts from Harry Stanley's 1945 book The Gag Bag, which features suggested patter for would-be magicians:
Of course, I never dare let my people know I was a magician. It would shock them. They think I'm still in prison.
I used to be a wallflower, until I took up magic. Now everybody asks me out. The other night at a show, I had only done one trick, and I was asked out.
There are only two kinds of conjurer you can't trust – the ones with moustaches and the clean-shaven ones.
He is a magician. His brother doesn't work either.
[Spoonerist patter] – 'my next disaster piece' (masterpiece) 'my next misery' (mystery) 'I will now utter the tragic words' (magic words.)
Public house catches fire... 50 magicians homeless.
Will someone call out any number between 16 and 60? Thank you I only wanted to find out if anyone was still awake.
Scot Nery sez, "Here's a quick fun video showing how to do the coin knuckle roll. Make your local magician respect and envy you."
Mat Ricardo sez,
"Mat Ricardo's London Varieties" comes to London's West End!
Last year I started a monthly variety show in a small East London venue. It was a little personal project that let me show my vision of what a variety show could be. Well, happily, it was a bit of a success - all the shows pretty much sold out, we got nominated for some awards, and The Stage named us the best light-entertainment show of the year. We were very pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a passionate audience for the kind of shenanigans I staged!
So for the 2013 season things are getting bigger and crazier. "Mat Ricardo's London Varieties" will run a season of six shows, once a month, and we're in a London West End theatre! I've been working hard for the last few months putting together the absolute best variety bills you could wish for. Some big names, some not so well-known, but every single performer is the absolute best at what they do. Magicians, circus performers, acrobats, clowns, comedians, singers, dancers, purveyors of thrills, skills, spectacle, beauty and silliness - every single one of them a top-of-their-game headliner through and through.
There hasn't been a real, knock-down, drag-out, no-apologies variety show in a West End theatre since the heydays of my heroes in the 60's and 70's, and this is a real labour of love - a childhood dream come true for me, but also something special for the performers and for all the fans of variety who have seen something they love go out of fashion. Well, we're back, and we're taking no prisoners!
The opening night is Feb 28th, at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, at 9.30pm.
Last month, I blogged a fascinating profile of Apollo Robbins, a stage pickpocket with an almost supernatural facility for manipulating attention and vision to allow him to literally relieve you of your watch, eyeglasses, and the contents of your wallet without you even noticing it, even after you've been told that he's planning on doing exactly that.
The profile mentioned that Robbins had consulted on a book called Sleights of Mind, written by a pair of neuroscientists named Stephen L Macknick and Susana Martinez-Conde (a husband and wife team, who also hired science writer Sandra Blakeslee to help with the prose, to very good effect). Macknick and Martinez-Conde are working scientists who had a key insight: the way that magicians manipulate our blind spots, our attention, our awareness, our intuitions and our assumptions reveal an awful lot about our neurological functions. Indeed, conjurers, pickpockets, ventriloquists and other performers are essentially practicing applied neuroscience, working out ways to systematically fool our perceptions and make seemingly impossible things happen before our eyes.
The book is a marvellous read, a very well-balanced mix of summaries of published scientific insights into visual and attention systems; accounts of the meetings between illusionists and scientists that the authors organized; histories of magic tricks; exposure of psychic frauds and fakes; and a tale about the couple's quest to craft a neuroscience-based magic act that would gain them full membership to the exclusive Magic Castle in Los Angeles.
I really can't overstate the charm and delight of Sleights of Mind -- from the introduction to the extensive footnotes, it is a truly great popular science text on one of my favorite subjects. The accompanying website is full of supplemental videos, showing how illusions work as mechanical effects, scientific principles and bravura performances. The performers who assisted the authors -- James Randi, Penn and Teller, Derren Brown, and, of course, Apollo Robbins -- are all justly famed for their skill, and the book is worth a read just for the insight it provides into their work. But it goes so much farther, providing both a theoretical underpinning in the neuroscience of perception and consciousness, and practical advice on how to apply this to your everyday life.
One interesting note: the authors mention a book called The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, which reprints the secret (and long-lost) training documents that magician John Mulholland created for the Agency in 1952, which were used at the height of the Cold War by US spies to deceive their Soviet counterparts -- for example, details of how to use the "big move" of lighting a cigarette to disguise the "small move" of slipping drugs into a rival's drink. I haven't read this yet, but I've just ordered it.
Last month, I linked to a great
Atlantic New Yorker profile of Apollo Robbins, a stage pickpocket who pulls off the most audacious fingersmithing you've ever seen, manipulating attention with such a fine touch that he leaves even jaded magicians slack-jawed.
Here's a great example of Robbins's schtick, from an NBC news show. I've been reading Sleights of Mind, a book on the neuroscience of vision, attention, optical illusion and magic, for which Robbins was extensively interviewed, and this video really helped me understand what the writers are talking about.