Meeting #8: Post-historic Magic

Planet Marx

Time: September 21, 2019

Location: Long March Space, Beijing

Speaker: Xu Ruiyu

How does one think about the twin positions of technology and magic within the same order? Returning to Long March Space, the eighth stop of the Planet Marx Book Club set its sights on magic-like technological imagery. For example, it can be said that in one of the most important early science fiction paintings “Science and Oviparity”, Wang Yuezhi (1894-1937) who had been inspired by the May 4th Movement and returned to Beijing, set out to describe his advocacy for technology in his painting. Here, the notion of growing life out of a flask from Goethe’s Faust is developed into a peculiar visual construct by the artist. In this futuristic scene, people give birth to eggs; the Daoist fertility goddess Songzi Niangniang who belongs to the old order, remains present. Her placement in a very important position in the painting retains a sense of ambiguity, it is clear that the artist continues to respect her power, perhaps even more so than that of the medical doctor whose face we cannot see in the background.

In the writings of Vilém Flusser, technical images are seen as a sort of magic. Old magic used images as its main media, and being able to draw meant being able to manipulate the mechanisms through which the desires of worship flow. To understand the role of new magic,  one must go through how it alters the production and function of images. This iteration of the reading club invited the curator and writer Xu Ruiyu to guide participants through the “post-magic” described in Flusser’s work. Reading club participants were invited to imagine a system of “post-historical magic” as evinced through their own concrete experience. In the second half of the reading club, participants broke into small groups and conducted group discussions and exchanges inspired by two video works as examples.

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