Thursday, October 25, 2012

Magic Week Presents ALL AROUND THE WORLD: Abracadabra—magic and art in the city of San Francisco

Asheley Gao

Act I
The Transformation
Who: Hearts in San Francisco
Where: Union Square, AT&T Park, Market Street, etc.
A dove into a flower, a beautiful assistant into a coin, magicians throughout the years have mastered the skills of transformation with a tilt of the wand or a snap of the fingers. The unexpected outcome always puts the heart of the audience on a thread. When the magician turns the city into his stage, every corner is a surprise. Just like the hearts that scatter on the streets of San Francisco, art transforms the city into an ever-changing magical act.
The Hearts in San Francisco is an annual public art installation inspired by Tony Bennett’s song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. Initiated by San Francisco General Hospital Foundation back in 2004, the Hearts project invited artists to design the surface of the uniform heart sculptures and raise money for the foundation by auctioning the installations off by the end of the year. Artists splashed their paint on the metal hearts, transforming them into vibrant cityscapes, serene landscapes, abstract geometric collages, and even famous scenes from cartoon series. Even Tony Bennett himself designed a heart with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, literally leaving his heart in San Francisco. Artists became magicians and brushes became wands; on the stage of San Francisco, the breath-taking transformation of the city into an ocean of hearts left the audience in awe.

Act II
The Penetration
Who: Cupid’s Span
Where: Rincon Park, The Embarcadero
A link through a link, a coffee mug through the table top, the magic of penetration involves one solid object passing through the other. The audience muffles a shriek when the magician’s sword stabs through the assistant’s body, or draws in a deep breathe as the magician walks through a solid wall. Solid through solid, the art of penetration takes the magician and the audience to places they would never imagine. It is the moment when one metal ring is about to be linked to another ring, or the assistant is about to pass through a mirror, that leaves the audience on the edge of their seats. On the magical stage of the Embarcadero, the sculpture Cupid’s Span perfectly captures, amplifies and freezes that exact moment of penetration.
Created by American sculptor Claes Oldenburg in 2002, Cupid’s Span, located right off the Bay Bridge, becomes the first welcome sign of San Francisco. Oldenburg, who specializes in removing daily objects from their context and relocate them in a public setting, blows up the scale of the arrow and bow. Applying an almost pop-art color scheme, the audience is immediately attracted to the red tip of the arrow which is about to go though the ground. The tension created by the string on the bow presents so much strength that it distorts the end of the arrow, pushing it deeper and deeper into the soil. The artist captures the most crucial moment in a penetration act and freezes it into permanence.

The Escape
            Straitjackets, milk jars, water tanks, Houdini has escaped them all. The escape is perhaps one of the most commonly practiced acts in the world of magic. Magicians, or their assistants, are mostly tied up with layers of chains and locks and then put under a life-threatening environment, unlocking their way out with a fatal time limit. Just to make it more engaging, magicians will often put on the face of agony, exaggerating their suffering. Some of the escape acts are executed behind a curtain, like the one over Houdini’s water tanks, enhancing the sense of secrecy and mystery. Much like the escapist, street artists roam the city streets under a velvet curtain, giving out no clue of where they came from or where they are off to; as the curtain is lifted, however, the proof of their existence is revealed on the floors, on the ground, behind the buildings, on top of the roofs. By that time, the magician has long escaped from the scene, disappearing into the crowd.
            Banksy is the Houdini of street art. He stands behind the curtain of the magician, facing the wall, spray can on one hand, stencil on the other. There is only so much time before the night gets old, so he’d better run before anyone is told. Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury, Mission and SOMA, Banksy has escaped them all, leaving behind his stage of magic, the street corners, for his audience to ponder and wonder. 

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The Culture Columnist, Asheley Gao:
My name is Asheley Gao and I’m a junior at Cal, majoring in History of Art and minoring in French. I grew up in Asia, the land of dragons and jasmine green tea, as a kid with too much imagination. Indulging myself in exploring different cultures and what they have to offer (art, movies, cuisine, you name it!), I’m on my way to becoming a woman whose country is the whole world. Along with all the excellent writers at Unleashed, I would love to share with you my adventure and take you all around the world.

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