With Steve Rodman And Velma
There is an ongoing effort to convince the world at large that magic is an art form. Well, art it is — literally — at the Whitney Museum of American Art. What is going on there that might interest magicians is a kinetic art piece entitled “The Darkest Color Amplified” by Tony Oursler. On exhibit until October 31, this optical feast employs a three dimensional imaging technology called “High Definition Volumetric Display.” This mouthful includes a modern version of an ancient apparatus called Camera Obscura, a primitive optical device that projects an image from one place to another. Going back to the Fifth Century, it was used to investigate vision and linear perspective. It was also used by magicians to create theatrical spectacles for conjuring.
To view this “piece,” a spectator has to enter a dark room, empty except for one wall from which two and three dimensional images seem to float in mid air. The images continuously streaming in no cognitive pattern are of magicians Steve Rodman (Bewitching Magic) and Astounding Velma (Queen Of Illusion) who silently perform magic illusions interspersed with sequences of a girl becoming more and more grotesque via the hand of a makeup artist. Simultaneously, background images of fire and shadows that resemble Rorschach figures appear. And, intermittently, an actual figure of a devil appears and dangles upside down among the images.
While mysterious sounding music plays, the images float in slow motion. Other filming techniques such as choppy images, freeze frames and reverse action, create a gothic, eerie effect — a perfect backdrop for magic. Though some tricks were enhanced by all this — Rodman’s skillful card manipulations, production of a dove from a black bag, and flash string to silk; Velma’s floating Zombie, some colorful glass beads, top hat and other magical accoutrements merely suggested magic. There is fleeting nudity, an appropriate lead in to a sexually metaphorical needle through balloon done by Velma.
Other than that it was so interesting to watch, what did it all mean? Obvious was the fact that in ancient times the use of the Camera Obscura was believed to be the work of demons, hence the figure of the floating devil. And, we’re told in a brochure that the piece portrayed the “fear and suspicion with which society often approaches new technological innovations.” It makes sense when you think that magic represents technology — mysterious and not easily understood. In this technologically explosive age, this work offers a lot of thought provoking elements. In addition, it was a pleasure to see Velma looking so good and great fun to see my friend Steve on display in a museum — I always said he was a work of art. And, oh yes, if one definition of art is that it enables you to see what the artist wants you to, and since that is what magicians do, then you must believe that magic is art, and that’s that.
“The Darkest Color Infinitely Amplified” by Tony Oursler.
At the Whitney Museum (945 Madison Ave. at 75th Street) in New York City.
Fridays through Wednesdays from 11am to 6pm. Thursdays 1pm to 9pm.
Cost is $8-$10, children under 12 free.