There seems to have been a lot of magic in the air for art over the past few years.

I just got back from Europe, mainly to visit the UK with its annual art fair smörgåsbord, Frieze and Zoo. On my way home I stayed for a week in Switzerland (thank you to Marianne for the room) where I was able to catch the impressive SHIFT Festival, which took place in Basel last weekend.

SHIFT is billed as the “Electronic Arts Festival,” and my first experience of it was last year in Beijing where they organised a mini-festival at the Yugong Yishan club.

This year’s Festival theme caught my attention because it reminded me of something which has been annoying my contemporary art peripheral vision over the past few years, being as it was “Magic. Tech-Evocations and Assumptions of Paranormal Realities.” I’ve noticed a growing interest in all things “magic” in contemporary art. A small selection of examples: there have been many shows showing work dealing with or constructing alternative realities based on “magical” appropriations of historical styles and/or events. Just before I left for China I saw a solo show at Wilkinson Gallery (their site is blocked here in China so I can’t get the details just yet), through groups shows such as ”Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art” (one of whose 4 sections was titled “Magic and Belief”). There is also the “mythopoetic fictions” of Plastique Fantastique, and the shamanism and animism of Marcus Coates.

In China, the history of what constitutes magic is somewhat different, but Western ideas of stage magic are still popular here. The performance on CCTV’s 2009 Spring Festival Gala of Taiwanese close-up magician Louis Liu (刘谦) led to an incredible popularisation of magic. TV shows about all kinds of magic have become immensely popular and Louis himself has become a household name. Perhaps we can look forward to seeing Chinese contemporary artists taking the bait and start to address this development of society through their work?