The Death of Magic

Ian Howard_The Death of Magic copy

The Death of Magic 2015 mixed media on canvas 240 x 300cm (photo Chris Park)

Wunderkammer as magic Wunderkammer as the death of magic  

In 1565, Samuel Quiccheberg published the earliest known treatise on museums, the Inscriptiones vel tituli Theatri Amplissimi. Quiccheberg proposes a model for the ideal Wunderkammer as an ordered and comprehensive collection of naturalia and artificialia. A Wunderkammer was an encyclopedic collection in Renaissance Europe of types of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined. Modern terminology would categorise the objects included as belonging to natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art and antiquities. Renaissance Wunderkammer were private spaces, created and formed around a deeply held belief that all things were linked to one another through either visible or invisible similarities, and the belief that by detecting those visible and invisible signs and by recognising the similarities between objects, there would come an understanding of how the world functioned, and what was humanity’s place in it. But although everything can be connected – mystically – that is not to say everything is connected. The Wunderkammer became a machine for both the birth of reason and the death of magic. The dilemma of the Wunderkammer could ( and should ) be celebrated like the failure of Babel – for its polyphony of wondrous and beautiful mistranslations, misreadings and misunderstandings, and its grasp of the power of objects and beauty of ruins.

index: the geometry of Beuys, the mandragora, names for the Devil, the lost languages in which no books were written, Giordano Bruno On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas, the alchemical tree, the transcripts of Babel, Basilius Valentinus Ein kurtz summarischer Tractat, von dem grossen Stein der Uralten, Polpo, the Constructivist dart, the nautical charts from the Ship of Fools, Quaratesi saviour St. Nicolas, the devil’s footage of the temptation of St. Anthony, the Russian experiment, the damaged dragon of Bellini, the hieroglyphs which meant nothing, the glass domes ( through their transparency and shine, have the rare virtue of simultaneously animating and distancing the objects they cover), Mike Kelley’s Kandors, the inhabitants of Quixote’s windmills, MDF, Jorge Luis Borges Ramón Llull’s Thinking Machine, the experiments of Luigi Galvani, De Lama Lamina of Matthew Barney, wunderkammer as magic, wunderkammer as the death of magic.

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Archive: 1998

Re-birth Dubrovnik. Sadastra: an installation of 8 cruciforms in the ruined Cistercian abbey in Dubrovnik, Croatia 1998. An installation of 8 copper crosses with hand-applied verdigris and luminous paint.
“Sadastra”, was the name given to a stone which, during the Greco-Roman era, was considered to possess magical properties. It was said to carry the light of the stars and to affect birth and re-birth. It was certainly a mineral which had phosphorescent or photo-retentive properties and was present in the mines on the Croatian coast. The installation brings this pre-Christian belief together with the image of the Christian crucifix and its promise of resurrection and re-birth. The various cruciforms used are drawn from both eastern and western Christian iconography, reflecting the geographical position of the modern Croatia as a bridge between the eastern and the western Church. Each letter of the word S-A-D-A-S-T-R-A was written on each of the cruciforms in a phosphorescent paint and could still be read 2 hours into darkness.


Sponsored by Art Radionica Lazareti and the Demarco European Art Foundation; Art Radionica Lazareti sponsored by the SOROS Foundation.