Q: What connects art and politics, paranoia and the paranormal?
A: Magician Walks into the Laboratory.
Magician Walks into the Laboratory is an installation by artists Darryl Georgiou and Rebekah Tolley, in collaboration with actor and academic Jack Klaff. The departure point for the artwork is the collective paranoia of the post-1945 cold war spy activity and of CIA transcripts concerned with ‘remote viewing’, or extrasensory perception (ESP). An audio-visual narrative is set-up in a room to re-enact fragments of a CIA remote viewing session. The date is set specifically as 4th December 1980 at 14.00 hours. The title is taken from that of a real CIA file Magician Walks into the Laboratory, in a folder named Stargate, which was declassified in 1998.
Magician Walks into the Laboratory
The installation, displayed during the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, 2017 shows a screen with a still image of an iconic All-American girl dressed in a star-spangled waistcoat, an Uncle Sam top-hat decorated with the stars and stripes pattern. She is wearing white gloves in the style of Mickey Mouse and is blowing a kiss in the pose of Marilyn Monroe. The image is on one level straightforward – it is a collage of memories – a cheerleader; a Hollywood starlet; a visual anthem of the All-American model blonde portrayed by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Wesselmann, Rosenquist, Ramos and American Pop Artists of the 1960s. It echoes the WWI Uncle Sam poster as an invitation to enlist – ‘I Want You’. The image is attempting to be seductive, to advertise herself, to attract you to somewhere, to something. Yet the face is anonymous, cold and unsmiling. It hints at the Aryan high cheekbones and firm jawlines of the anti-icons of Sharon Tate and Patty Hearst, whose faces are submerged in the media, secret for their own reasons. Yet we are unable to identify her, to give her a name and an identity. She represents ‘Hope’ and ‘Freedom’ for her era and could be any good-looking, sexy and healthy young woman in her early twenties. She might be a Time magazine cover – a representative, a type, a standard, an iconic non-celebrity.
The setting is dark, serious, mysterious and menacing. The image of the All-American girl is on a video screen in a dark room – a classic cinematic dark room that could be borrowed from The Man from Uncle or Doctor Strangelove. A dark voice instructs you to “Relax and concentrate”, to “Fix your attention on your target”. The space proposes a CIA surveillance operation where the All-American girl is the image and the subject. The photograph of the young woman is of a ‘person of interest’ – ‘the ‘target’ – for reasons undetermined. But as spectators we are outside the information, we can only speculate on the circumstances of the procedure, and the requirements of the information. The installation invokes the ‘hauntology’ around the ultimately unsuccessful secret-service aspirations to develop techniques for remote viewing and pseudo-time travel.
From Star Wars to Star Lab, via Stargate
The central character – the voice, both antagonist and protagonist, of the fictional American CIA agent is that of actor / film star / writer / director / academic Jack Klaff who played the starfighter pilot, Red Four in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977; and was the villain, Apostis, in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, 1981. Klaff has held four Professorships at Princeton University, and is also a former Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Starlab NV/SA, in Brussels from 1996-200. Starlab was a blue Skies research institute and research laboratory, which explored far-reaching ideas that looked beyond remote viewing into subjects such as teleportation, time travel and creating a functioning brain.
Magician Walks into the Laboratory – A collaborative installation by Darryl Georgiou and Rebekah Tolley with Jack Klaff combines voice recordings, photographs, classified archives, redacted text documents and original objects to construct the narrative. The project touches on individual paranoia and global anxiety, alluding to the current political and social concerns with mass surveillance, data gathering, biased social and broadcast media.
Magician Walks into the Laboratory was presented in the group exhibition The Future, in the Coventry Evening Telegraph Building, (The CET Building), for the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, 6-22 October 2017.
The Magician Trilogy: Magician Walks into the Laboratory is Part I of a trilogy of new artworks and radio projects that explore the links between both historical and contemporary geopolitical Cold War ideologies, being developed by Georgiou-Tolley and Jack Klaff.
Part II: Walking Back the Cat – is centred around the KGB
Part III: Tattered Cloak, too much Dagger – explores the East German Stasi