Learn about the intersection of magic and nature in the final week of Jeanette's residency. Bring your questions to our second Meet-the-Artist home studio visit on Tuesday, July 28, then join Jeanette in conversation with National Geographic Fellow Peg Keiner during her last Coffee Chat, Friday, July 31. Both events take place on @ahml's Instagram and require no registration.
Blog post by Jeanette Andrews
Magicians have always had a deep relationship with nature. My work takes inspiration from the 19th century European parlor magicians, such as the 'father of modern magic' Robert Houdin. They combined elegant modern design aesthetics with natural materials to create magic, such as Houdin's famed orange tree act (a). (You may even recall seeing a version of this depicted in the 2006 Neil Burger movie “The Illusionist,” which was based on the Steven Millhauser short story 'Eisenheim the Illusionist', in “The Barnum Museum.”)
In my first blog post, “You Are Reading this Sentence” for our Magic + Science week, I noted some of the rich scientific principles at play that underlie even our simplest daily experiences. Our experiences with nature have deep histories and narratives surrounding them. As a magician, I look at our expectations of the natural world, and seek to perform fantastical versions of what nature already affords in its wondrous landscape. For example, what if an apple could appear right before our eyes? I have a performance piece where an apple does just that. But… isn’t that exactly what an apple does in everyday life as well? Case in point, Arlington Heights’ own Klehm Nursery. They specialized in “Fruit and Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, Vines, and Herbaceous Plants” 1 in the late 1800’s through 2004. 2 (Thank you to Jaymie Middendorf, Genealogy and Local History Librarian, for her help in this research.) One of their most noted offerings was apple trees 3. They helped make apples appear. After bringing plants to the nursery via a mule-drawn wagon, local purchasers could plant their trees and then on average six years later, the first apple would appear.
The seemingly “magical“ thing that happens in my performance is similar to the genuinely magical thing that happens in real life. The time scale is just a bit different (wink, wink). My work seeks to use magic as an artistic medium to draw focus back to the natural world and the amazing processes that unfold around us every day. And I am so honored that you have chosen to spend some time with me on this journey.
a: In a nutshell (or orange rind?), the effect is as follows, which is translated by Todd Karr of Miracle Factory books 4 from the original The Magic of Robert-Houdin, An Artist’s Life:
As the magician, you begin by getting a handkerchief from one woman in the audience and a ring from another. Neither are accomplices. You then tie the ring to the handkerchief with a ribbon (to create an ensemble too unique to swap for a look-alike) and you promise to make the handkerchief-ring dematerialize, and then reappear inside an orange. Next, you make an egg vanish into a lemon and that lemon into an orange. But now, you announce, there is no room left in the orange for the handkerchief, so you will have to find some other way to make good on your promise. Rubbing the egg-lemon-orange in your hands, you reduce it gradually into a powder, which you sprinkle into a liqueur. After your assistant places a potted orange tree on the table beside you, you pour the liqueur into a goblet, light it beneath the orange tree to represent “the heat and light of the sun,” and wave your wand, commanding the tree first to flower—which it does—and then to fruit.
“You may think these are mechanical oranges,” you say. “Stand corrected, since I will now pick them before your eyes.” After you do, you distribute them to people in the audience to eat. When only one orange remains, you remind everyone of your promise, saying: “I will take the handkerchief with both my hands and from here I will send it into the orange; I will then tell this orange, ‘Open!’”
Fantastically, the orange opens at your command. Two butterflies fly into the air, the original handkerchief and ring between them, whereupon you ask, “Can you see your handkerchief, Madame?” Finally, you return the ring and handkerchief to their respective owners, who confirm your genius by verifying their authenticity.