OAKLAND, Calif. — Steve Jobs knew this well: there’s something magical about technology. Turn on a phone or a computer, and you can access not just information but people and communities with a few clicks and taps. The ubiquity of this process in much of the world has made it easy to take communications technologies for granted. The magic is still there in some sense but it’s been bogged down by an inbox of work emails we haven’t yet replied to.
Geistlich Tube, a new project by Paul St. George, tries to recapture that magic in some sense. Geistlich is a German word with connotations of ghostliness, but as St. George noted in an interview at his studio in Sweden, “it also rhymes with Geissler, because my project is based on the original Geissler tubes and those have ghostly .” The Wikipedia entry on these tubes notes that they were mass produced in the 19th century as curiosities. The colorful tubes would shift and change with the plasma inside, and a science-oriented owner could use it to talk about electron movement and vacuums.
The installation, part of Victoriana: The Art of Revival, a new show in London’s Guild Hall, features a picture box with fluorescent light. It mimics early experiments with electrons that presaged the invention of the telvision. A lo-res screen inside shows “someone else who’s somewhere else, on the other side.” A vane rotates on occasion just above, and the box seems to react to visitors … or not. A staffer from Visit the City of London commented on the piece, “It did something when one of the team here walked by … a low buzzing sound; most unsettling. Is he being followed by spirits, do you think?”
You might remember St. George from the Telectroscope, another Victorian-era curiosity that he revived in 2009 to connect Brooklyn and London. Geistlich Tube continues his fascination with historic revival of technology. And while Silicon Valley’s magicians continue to peddle the magic of their inventions, we use that word magic in a metaphoric sense. Few technologists think there’s actual magic in how use our phones, computers, televisions and other electronics today.
“At the end of the 19th century that wouldn’t have been a dichotomy,” St. George noted. “It wasn’t one crowd of people looking at the occult and one crowd of people looking at science. They were the same people. The rational and the irrational have become separated. For most of the history of knowledge they were interwoven.”
Victoriana: The Art of Revival continues through December 8 at Guildhall (Gresham St, City of London).
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