november 2009 | Johan Johansson
The Perfect Meeting – An Illusion
Magic is making a grand comeback in our lives. Not in the revamped version of illusionist duo Siegfried & Roy, but in new exciting seductions in which we experience how perspectives are distorted without the risk of losing our foothold. Instead of Houdini wannabes, a new generation of architects and designers are taking command of our coveted, illusory lives.
At his exhibition Revolving Hotel Room in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Artist Carsten Höller gave visitors the chance to rent his rotating hotel room installation for the night as if the museum were a normal hotel. A projection onto one of the naked exhibition walls served as a hotel TV and guests could stroll around the closed exhibition at any time for a private viewing. It is not only the notion of spending the night at one of the world’s most famous museums that is unreal, but the installation itself. A bed, a writing desk and a wardrobe on enormous sheets of glass that rotate unnoticed, so when you wake up from your museum slumber the whole room has changed, abracadabra! Good things don’t come cheap. One night will put you back 798 dollars.
In an increasingly optimised and doctored world with everything at our fingertips, we seek something new to believe in. The more unreal the better. We need to look no further than all the conceptual design hotels popping out of the ground like mushrooms, where the borderline between fairy tale and reality is wafer thin and where a simple restaurant visit becomes a journey into unchartered territory. Being able to leave the daily grind and enter a world of inexplicable events and shattering experiences is becoming increasingly popular, and we are seemingly prepared to pay through the nose for this chance to escape reality.
Architects Arakawa and Gins go as far as to claim that environments which challenge our intellect and physique not only make us sharper and more focused, but actually help us live longer. In their latest creation Bioscleave House in East Hampton, New York, they have created rooms that would make even the least sensitive among us want to pull the sheets over their face. The keywords here are uncomfortable, messy and downright dangerous. In an outlandish interior, you climb up to the kitchen and creep down to the dining alcove. The place is littered with ingenious traps to be overcome using curiosity and enthusiasm for the most mundane things, like going to the toilet for example. The colours screech like warning signals, the body gets the chance to utilise its capacity and the intellect is activated through never-ending challenge, all to save us from conformity and laxity in a surrealistic milieu in which nothing can be taken for granted.
“In an increasingly optimised and doctored world with everything at our fingertips, we seek something new to believe in.”
When the tiny, super cool Fiat 500 was launched amid a great hullabaloo, it was not the grand ceremony in Turin in front of a massive media turnout that everybody talked about, quite the opposite. Significantly more low key, but with incredible ingenuity, the design bureau Random International created an installation in London that used illusion as a tool. In a seemingly empty premises on an everyday shopping street, in a flash the new car suddenly appeared, as if by magic, right under the noses of curious passersby, only to disappear again as quick as it had come leaving the premises empty and dark again. By applying liquid crystals onto a standard shop window that could be turned on and off with a light switch, they created the illusion of the ‘disappearing car’ and the whole world was struck with wonder. Dubious? Search on Youtube and see for yourself.
With Harrods in London as their playing field, the small Chilean lighting company Luxia took world shoppers by surprise with their concept The Anemix. The stylistically pure, but somewhat dull, interior of the luxury store was transformed into a vibrant meeting of all our senses. Barely visible digital LED displays weaved dreamlike scenarios that would have appeared lifelike and genuine had they not moved unhindered through the air. For people wanting the experience in their own home, a version is being released that can be placed on everyday furniture like a bookcase, a bedside table or a lamp with the motto ‘show off the magic while entertaining house guests’.
Many years have passed since the middle ages when people actually believed in witchcraft and sorcery, and morbidly subjected heretics and sorcerers to all conceivable horrors. Today we know that magic is an illusory mix of psychological advantage, great talent and a well-staged number. Or, as they say in magic circles, ‘it’s all done with smoke and mirrors’. But despite genuine magic having fallen in the credibility stakes, something always entices. Something that kick-starts the imagination and curiosity, that challenges our notions and, more importantly, guarantees our participation.