Twice Upon A Time: Magic, Alchemy and the Transubstantiation of the Senses

Golding, Johnny; Hewett, Lee; Rogers, Henry; Paganellli, Mattia; Worrallo, Dane; Ceglarz, Jakub; Williams, Grace and Henderson, Joanne, eds. 2014. Twice Upon A Time: Magic, Alchemy and the Transubstantiation of the Senses, Zetesis: The International Journal for Fine Art, Philosophy and the Wild Sciences, 2(3). 2059-2582 [Edited Journal]

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Research Arts Editor

In this, the third volume of Zetesis, a neatly packaged Molotov was launched into the ‘out-there’ of art, of science and of life in the disguised form of an international call for papers.

We were curious if there might be a different way to re-think/re-make the links between and amongst speculation, materiality, performativity, the senses and sensualities, with bodies both real and imagined, without having to resort to the somewhat staid methodologies of “dialectical materialism” or “objected oriented ontologies” or the seemingly overrated metrics of “scientistic deduction.” Recognising, at the same time, that we were riding the wave of a massive, revolutionary paradigm shift brought on by advances in complexity, radical materiality and the quanta, quarks and feedback loops, robotics, artificial intelligences, transsexualities and ecological verisimilitude our task could not have been more urgent.

The Call went out. But rather than ask for a direct or literal response to this ‘re-think/re-make’, the collective chose instead to journey onto a slightly more dangerous, curious path, one not usually linked with formal research, but instead cast often as frivolous or whimsical, illusionary, religious or just plain wrong. We chose to partner with the wild side and take a stronger look-see at the forerunners to all contemporary art, philosophy and science; to wit: magic, alchemy and the transubstantiation of the senses.

Under the illusive cloak of magic, the curiosity of alchemists introduced a means for experimentation into the innate properties of materials. The transformation of raw matter into precious metals, the combination of hot sulphur and wet, cold mercury to birth the philosopher’s stone; to bring the inanimate to life, to vanish miraculously and conjure the body, as well as providing a foundation for the laws of substance based on sensory interaction and its potentiality. The scientific practices of today echo this inherent desire for material vitally ‘alive’ transformations, yet Western tradition remains cautious of unreasoned sensorial data, often treating it with trepidation. While this paradigm has proven an efficient methodology, it has installed a discriminatory partition between that which can be rationalised or mathematized and that which is supposedly ‘only’ sensory.

These energised and sensate transformations mark the beginning of a new challenge against tradition, returning to curiosity, experimentation and the intensity of the senses away from conventional modes of thought.

The Centre for Fine Art Research (CFAR) and the Research Centre for Creative Making (S.T.U.F.F.) based at the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media (ADM) joined forces at Birmingham School of Art – BCU to welcome papers/ performances/exhibition installations that responded to magic/alchemic practices in all their forms, including but not limited to the origins of alchemy and its contemporary relevance in science, magic performance, illusion, automata, the sensory in artificial intelligence and radical thinking in relation to concepts of time. We invited artists, scientists and philosophers to explore again the threshold between these paradigms, dwelling on curiosity and the tradition of scientific questioning.

This bold and viscerally complex conference, laid the groundwork for this volume 3 of Zetesis: Twice Upon a Time: Magic, Alchemy and the Transubstantiation of the senses. The exhibitions, artwork, papers and prose contained in this volume include some of the best international practice-led and theoretically emboldened research on this topic today.

By foregrounding the alchemist’s vision, we now present here in Zetesis our initial findings: a profane renegotiation of the very boundaries that seemed heretofore always insistent upon separating into binaric unities the so-called texture-realities of representation vs thought, sensation vs logic, image vs text. In challenging those easy divisions, we celebrate the (re-)turn to a ‘twice upon a time’ when transubstantiation, metamorphosis and morphogenesis gives succour to this energy we so nonchalantly call art.

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12 Apr 2024 13:23

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12 Apr 2024 13:23


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