Where: Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce
When: 11.14 2014 — 01.15 2015 
Opening:  Friday, November, 14th, 6:00 — 8:00 pm

curated by Ilaria Bonacossa


In Democracy is Illusion, the Italian duo Goldschmied & Chiari ( Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari ) shows with its trademark jaunty irony how secret intelligence practices of the Cold War era gained persuasive control by mimicking tricks and simulations performed by great magicians of the time thereby turning citizens into unaware spectators of the “tricks” of power. This analogy is staged through works specifically created for this exhibition in a variety of expressive means (photography, installation, sculpture, and video). The museum’s second floor is transformed into an imaginary film set wherein the elusive nature of truth is emphasized through the use of airborne materials such as smoke and suspended mirrors that turn politics into a play made of secret operations and trickeries.

The exhibition results from a research driven by the artists’ fascination for the shadowy history of the role played byintelligenceagenciesindefending theState,theirinterferencewithdomesticpolicies,andtheirpowertoinfluencethe decisions taken by member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance. Western democracies often operate in secret and behind the scenes, diverting public attention with ingenious strategies of concealment and information manipulation. This practice has many similarities with the way illusionists produce credible illusions through stage machinery, quick sleights of hand, and captivating words.Placed on the grand staircase, the large writing La démocratie est illusion (2014) welcomes the visitor. Its mirroring surface gives the impression that the museum’s architecture opens up into another dimension. The exhibition gathers several works inspired by the performances of notorious illusionist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) whose famous tricks, such as hiding the elephant, the needle trick and the metamorphosis trick, and escapologist shows were set up as extreme challenges hovering between life and death.

The large-scale installation Hiding the Elephant (2014), re-adapted for its presentation at Villa Croce, refers to Houdini’s astonishing performance held at New York’s Hippodrome in 1918 where he made an elephant disappear in front of thousands of people. The work consists of 100 two-dimensional head silhouettes made of mirror and suspended midair in the exhibition space.Each carries on one side the portrait of someone who mysteriously disappeared or died during the cold war, while on the other side they reflect the visitor’s faces, reproducing the disappearance/removal from history of the people represen ed as well as the covert actions in which they were involved.

Goldschmied & Chiari explain that: “we were intrigued by the collaboration between professional stage magicians and the intelligence agencies on critical military operations. Take the example of Jasper Maskelyne, an illusionist who worked for the British MI6 during the Second World War and invented camouflage and disguise techniques that allowed the Allies to undermine several German military maneuvers in North Africa. Maskelyne is credited for inventing a device made of a dazzle mirrors that produced beaming lights and made the Suez Canal ‘vanish’ from the gunsight of Luftwaffe aircraft.”

By making his trick realistic, the magician deceives the spectator and makes him blind to the stage, producing a sense of childlike wonder. The connection between stage magic and intelligence agency procedures lies in the fact that the public want to be other-directed, it does not want the trick to be revealed. To use Jacques Derrida’s words, the question lies in “the difference between believing and seeing, between believing one seesandseeingbetween, catchingaglimpse–ornot.”

This exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Passerelle Centre d’Art Contemporain (Brest, France) with the support of PIANO, a Franco-Italian curatorial platform created on the initiative of d.c.a./ French association for the development of art centers