Clare Reddington, Director of the Pervasive Media Studio announces their new magicians in residence:
"I'm always pulling rabbits from things" the man in front of us smiles. Not the sort of claim normally heard in an interview situation, but then again, I have never been taken to a Ladies toilet to hear a pitch. Or received a sealed envelope days before an interview, the contents of which were revealed mid-presentation. But these were not normal interviews - yesterday I spent a glorious day meeting the six candidates shortlisted for the position of magician in residence. And what a joyful process it was.
Sleight of hand aside, we explored magic in all its permutations and possibilities: as story, as performance, as heritage, as therapy. We discussed magic as an act of design fiction - imagining and pointing to new technological futures. And magic as invention, using new technologies to produce awe and wonder. We explored fake magical theory, revelled in the potential of guerrilla female magic and considered what form open-source illusion might take.
Every year Watershed produces a programme of artist residencies, offering time and space to brilliant people to explore new ideas inspired by creative technologies. Most recently these took the form of three opportunities for makers, co-produced with Crafts Council and hosted in institutions across South West England. This year we decided to disrupt normal service with something a bit different: the magician in residence, a position co-hosted by Watershed's Pervasive Media Studio and the Computer Science Department of the University of Bristol, is a two month opportunity to explore creative ideas that blend technology, interaction design, magic and illusion.
Of course, we aren't the first people to play with this area: from age-old tricks like Pepper's Ghost (which required a specially-built theatre to house it) to Houdini's radio illusion, there is a long tradition of magicians making and appropriating new technology within their acts. However, apart from a few exceptions, magic has been slow to respond to more recent emerging technology areas, like the internet of things. Creating time and space to explore how technology could produce new experiences, stories, tricks or products, seemed like a good investment to us.
Back in the interviews, Mike Fraser, Victoria Tillotson and I decided to weave some magic of our own. Bouyed up by the enthusiasm and quality of our applicants, we sprinkled some woofle dust and doubled the opportunity. In October, we will be joined by the awesome Stuart Nolan who will explore how to track subconscious muscle responses to create a friendly mind-reading robot pet, and the amazing Kieron Kirkland who will research the synergies and opportunities between magic and the maker movement.
When we launched the call for a magician in residence, we were warned to beware. Magicians are solitary, secretive creatures we were told. They may not want to play. But throughout the process, we have been struck by how open, collaborative and curious the magicians we met are (not many interview candidates set up their own circle afterwards in the bar).
The magician in residence feels like the beginning of a journey for us. A rabbit hole that will open up into larger, longer research projects blending magic, science, technology and art to create new products, technologies and understandings of human behaviour. I for one, could not be more excited...