JONATHAN ALLEN

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'Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the non-existent coin in its journey upwards, then pretend to follow its flight downwards again'


'This clever mystery depends on an old method of concealment which should be familiar to all experienced coin workers'

'This switch can be performed again and again without the slightest detection. Each time, care must be taken to stop the coins from talking'

 

'This simple pass enables the performer to completely vanish a coin from the hand into which it was unmistakenly placed moments before'

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Feint installation views | Deutsche Bank Lobby Gallery, New York | Nov 9-Dec 11 1998 | curated by Helen Varola

Jonathan Allen's site-specific installation Feint at the Deutsche Bank's New York headquarters addresses the unregulated flow of free-market capital and the questionable competencies through which financiers operate. Whilst the theatrical conjuror is often used in popular cartoons to satirize financial misdemeanor, Allen draws on the specific technical language and props used by coin magicians to dwell on the unseen daily performances that take place in this pertinent location. Illumiated lenticular photographs show half-dollar coins appearing and vanishing alongside short texts (drawn from coin magic manuals) printed on long copper strips.

"If there can be said to be a hard currency of wonderment, then the Kennedy half dollar is surely its global standard. Probably the most manipulated coin in existence, it is favored by coin magicians the world over for its size, weight, and purchase, all key features if a coin is to dance in the hand. Manhandled, therefore, like no other coin, the Kennedy half has also undergone numerous re-mintings at the fingertips of skilled craftsmen. One can pay real dollars in magic shops to obtain Kennedy halves that fold in two, double-headed or double-eagled version, shell halves, magnetic halves, halves in which the head itself drops out. It is, to coin a phrase, a loose changling.

JFK's head meant a lot more to me as an English child growing up in the late 1970's. The first book that I can remember really reading (carrying it everywhere) was Josiah Thomson's 'Six Seconds in Dallas', an assassination conspiracy theory which paid much attention to the doomed president's cranium (how many bullets, which direction). In my other favoured literature at the time, conjuring manuals, the president's head featured regularly, palmed, sleeved, and sleighted within book illustrations of coin magic. In my memory of that period, magic terminology like 'forcing', or 'glimpsing', and of course 'misdirection' are shot through with political intrigue and suggestiveness.

If I confused close-up magic with governmental mischief and conspiracy, then it is because some of the best magic automatically arouses rich associations. And magic done with money has particularly strong associations, since money, in the words of John Buchan is 'a sort of distillation of the uncertainty of life'. As coins appear and melt away in the hands of the magician, it is as if the physical nature of money itself were dematerialising, revealing it as the abstraction we sense it to be, yet on a daily basis are obliged to misperceive. Magicians may feint and flourish using copper and silver, but it is the emotional and psychological transactions of their audience that is their target currency."

Jonathan Allen 1998