Monday, June 18, 2007

Teaching Magic to Mercer at Katzen Arts Museum

"Teaching Magic to Mercer" by Susan MacWilliam appearing in Resolutions: New Art from Northern Ireland

by Max Perry

Hidden within the various pieces that make up the show Resolutions: New Art from Northern Ireland ,at the Katzen Museum, is a 13" television which sits atop a small pedestal. It is accompanied by two small drawings. The piece is called "Teaching Magic to Mercer."

I have found The piece "Teaching Magic to Mercer", by Susan MacWilliam to be absolutely fascinating. The piece consists of a video of a child drawing at a kitchen table while responding to an unheard voice. The voice, however, is seen by the viewer in the form of subtitles which appear at the bottom of the screen. The subtitles interact with the child in the form of strange tales about people with supernatural powers. The piece retains the viewer's interest because it can be interpreted in several different ways and because it is completely dependent on the viewer's own belief system as to its meaning, making it both mysterious and engaging, as well as highly interactive.

One of the pleasant things about the piece is that it is unclear who is teaching the child because of its construction. The "voice" at the bottom of the screen simply functions as "teacher". The subtitles suggest another's presence without giving away who or what that presence is. Were it not for the occasional look to his right which suggest another in the room, the viewer could interpret the subtitles as their own thoughts while reading or as the thoughts of the child's imagination, as he draws.
Regardless of the speculation involved with the mysterious subtitles, the piece is effective in its display of teaching magic. At no point does the child reject the possibility of the phenomenal. He embraces more at every turn. Thus tapping in to his own imagination which is the real magic referred to in the title.
As Mercer interacts with the voice, so must the viewer ask the question "what do I believe?"

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