News & Events

Revelatory Meeting of April 30

SMRN held another revelatory and enlightening meeting on April 30 with members that included: Jessika Kenney, Steven Baris, Lynn Marie Kirby, Millie Chen, Çigdem Borucu, Nina Czegledy, Nezih Erdoğan, Azadeh Emadi, Farshid Kazemi and Laura Marks.

Our members Farshid Kazemi and Lynn Marie Kirby presented their works in progress. Farshid presented part of his postdoctoral research called, ‘From Magic to Media: Talismans as Optical Media and Automata in Islamicate Hermetica as a Source for Fontana’s Lanterna Magica’. His presentation demonstrated that Giovanni Fontana’s influential treatise on military automata, ‘Bellicorum instrumentorum liber, cum figuris et fictitys litoris conscriptus’ (1420 CE), that contains an image of one of the first ever depictions of an early version of the magic lantern or lanterna magica in Europe, is generally known to have derived from Islamicate and Arabic sources. However, according to Farshid, which Arabic textual sources has remained something of a desideratum and never fully established, with various theories and sources being put forward. In his presentation, Farshid puts forward a new theory for the genealogy of this optical media and demonstrated that such optical devices and automata as military technologies are found in the literature of Islamicate Hermetica by demonstrating that its earliest sources lie in the little studied Pseudo‐Aristotelian Hermetica, much of which was influenced by Harranian Astral Magic. The most important figure in these sources is the enigmatic and mysterious figure of Balinus or pseudo-Apollonious of Tayna, a disciple of the legendary Hermes Trismagistus, who is called in the sources: “the possessor or lord of Talismans” (sahib-i tilismat). These Pseudo‐Aristotelian Hermetica then influenced such prose works as the Persian Alexander Books (including the poet Nizami Ganjavi’s Iskandarnameh) that discuss the construction of talismans by the fabled teacher of Alexander the Great, Aristotle and sometimes also Balinus. Farshid showed that it is precisely an optical media and automata called ‘talismans’ (tilismat) in these hermetic texts where Aristotle or Balinus creates automata called ‘talismans’ for the purposes of helping Alexander to conjure illusions to deceive and frighten his opponents in battle. This is precisely the function of the optical device illustrated in Fonta’s manuscript which is considered the earliest depiction of a version of magic lantern. In this way, Farshid has uncovered, for the first time, that the early magic lantern device described in Fontana’s book is a talisman (Arabic: tilism, Persian: telesm) and that its origins lies in the literature of Islamicate Hermetica. Farshid’s presentations contributes to a hitherto unknown genealogy for media archeology and the archeology of the cinema and demonstrates that the history of the development of the cinema is profoundly interconnected with a technological form of talismanic magic that traveled from Arabic Hermetic sources (itself profoundly influenced by Harranian Astral Magic) into Europe.

Lynn presented her work in progress called: ‘Work in progress collaboration with SF Girls chorus: placeness and listening. ’ Lynn makes artistic work through a range of time-based forms through attuning to the emotions and histories of particular sites and public spaces. These explorations into a sense of place and a sense of presence; include performances, site interventions, films, texts, and walks—either on her own or in collaboration. Lynn finds intervention sites outside and alongside established art systems, enlarging the idea of the exhibition and its relation to the public. Lynn is committed to an ephemeral time based practice, using indirect recording methods. Her current project emerged organically from her previous work on missing tenderness. In 2019 she continued her search for missing tenderness creating a space as a resident artisit at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco. Lynn also worked from Casa de las Madres, an organization that shelters women fleeing domestic violence, an apothecary to make a special Bitters for the project, and with girls ages 11–16 from the San Francisco Girls Chorus. The work made with these different groups was shown in alcoves inside the church, and the girl chorus performed several times, moving throughout the church. Drawing from language generously provided by the girls themselves about their relationships with their mothers, Lynn collaborated with the poet Denise Newman to write a libretto which was set to music by composer Jennifer Wilsey. This past fall Lynn began again to collaborate with the SF Girls Chorus. She had enjoyed working with the chorus conductor Anne Hege on their previous project Somehow this relates to love, and decided to work together again. The girls chorus has been meeting in Zoom all year, so they could not perfrom live. It was decided that they make a film together, this way they would be able to sing together in synch. Anne and Lynn devloped a site embedded practice for the choresters. They each chose a place they could go to at least three times a week, sit and listen in the site, and eventullay, take notes, collect objects, record sounds. Lynn again worked with the poet Denise Newman on the libretto, again using the girls’ own language, this time the text is based on their site reflections. They are now working on setting the libretto to music. In the meantime, Lynn received the objects the girls collected from their sites, as well as their site recordings, and the colors they have chosen to represent their places. Lynn scanned their objects, and have begun to lay their objects and recorded sounds in a time line, will eventullay add their singing. Thinking of this image sound space, perhaps the way Cunnihgham and Cage worked together with dance and sound, the two spaces can move freely, but there will be moments of sync between the image and sound. This week Lynn began recording their experiments with voicing the libretto and she showed the members a short segment of these experiments.

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