Vanishing in Plain Sight


Playfully negotiating the historical constructs of theatrical vanishing and its disturbingly female trappings this paper centers on the creation of Bautier de Kolta’s l’Escamotage D’une Dame, an illusion used to screen the anxieties of the male British populous, irked by a buoyant surplus in unmarried, white, middle class women, in the late 1880s. Introducing texts such as W. R Greg’s Why are women Redundant? This paper makes ever more apparent the political, violent and sexual connotations of the female body in magical feats of performative disappearance. From the photographic curios of hidden mothers to the dark room of the séance, the conversation unfurls around the many forms of female vanishing, culminating in a discussion of the contemporary artwork Escamotage (Grace A Williams, 2015) that takes the Persian rug as both a motif of magical vanishing and a tool for the exposure of form. This paper was originally delivered as a performance from within a ‘Zig-Zag’ illusion box, in collaboration with artist David Cheeseman. The first critical analysis of women’s role within magical illusions, delivered by a female artist from within a magical prop that continues to dismember female bodies for entertainment in the contemporary magic market

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