Spell Check

Go back only a few hundred years into history, and the lines between science, art and the occult disappear into the discipline known as "natural magic"-- think of richly illustrated chemico-medical treatises by alchemists, or the theatrical experiments in optics that Athanasius Kircher dubbed his "great art of light and shadow." Consider then the practice of magic as a sort of technology, albeit one contrarily based on a worldview that the 20th century sought to uproot and discard. This instrumentalist use of occult knowledge seems to pervade "The Great Transformation-- Art and Tactical Magic," a current show at the Frankfurter Kunstverein that explores "the possibility for social transformation using the tools and languages of transcendental forces." At the spiritual center of the exhibit lies the work of Berkeley's The Center for Tactical Magic, a collective whose work traffics an esoterica-inflected street activism-- their own peculiar brand of psi power to the people. Other works touch on the more quotidian practice of ledgerdemain: Aurélien Froment's 2007 film Théâtre de poche depicts the slight-of-hand by a stage magician, while Allen Ruppersberg's 1971 single-channel tape A Lecture on Houdini (For Terry Allen) shows the artist bound in a straight jacket, reading a list of events in the life of the world-famous escape artist. Further spooky subjects appear in works by Mike Kelley, Banks Violette, Claire Fontaine and others. - Ed Halter

Image: Aurélien Froment, Théâtre de poche, 2007