Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic

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” Explore how our biases affect our perception and whether our senses can be hacked. Discover spirit photography, magic props and psychology experiments to see how magic works on – and in – the mind of the spectator.

Artefacts on display from the world of magic include the head of the gorilla costume worn by Derren Brown, Harry Houdini’s ‘Bell Box’, Tommy Cooper’s fez, and Paul Daniels’s sawing-in-half box. ”
– Taken from the webpage

This exhibition is currently on at The Wellcome Collection, exploring the psychology of  magic tricks and illusions, examining modern and historical tricks through a scientific lens. I found it very fascinating, as like most people I was very fascinated with magic as a child, although it does spoil the fun a little to learn how it is done! I particularly enjoyed the video content in the booths (as shown in the photos) labelled Perception, Reasoning, and Memory as it explained the three aspects to magic tricks that utilise the flaws in our brains to make tricks seem believable. Each one broke down a different trick into its base components and it was actually super fascinating. I also really loved the old newspaper clippings and posters for magic acts- really aesthetically pleasing and I wish more art and advertising would hark back to this style and era. (Examples below)

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The older films and photosets of tricks being broken down, shown, or disproved were also fascinating to see- it just goes to show how human beings interest in the unknown in universal, and I found it really curious how people who were well known for being supposedly rational were willing to suspend disbelief for magic and psychics. People such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, well known for his detective novels about the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, were believers in the supernatural and mysterious- something that seems strange when you consider the quest for logic and scientific reasoning present in his books.

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In terms of accessibility the exhibition had lots of engaging content, all with subtitles, was well laid out for wheelchair users and those with mobility aids to get around (although more seating would have been nice), and there were large format guide books available. There were plenty of videos that could be listened to for those with visual impairments, however nothing was available for visitors to touch, and as magic and illusory tricks are very visual by nature I think visitors with visual impairments might struggle to get as much from the exhibition as those without visual impairments. As someone who gets easily over stimulated by sound I found the exhibition manageable as some video pieces had headphones available, and none of the videos had audio that was overwhelmingly loud. I also found the subtitles on the videos very helpful. In terms of lighting it was quite dim all the way through, which might be to preserve the older photographs, and print based works, but it made it tricky to read some of the descriptions and might not be comfortable for people who struggle in low light conditions.

 

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