Realigning the attention: fascination, spatial experience and stage magic

Pringle, P 2012, Realigning the attention: fascination, spatial experience and stage magic, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Architecture and Design, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Realigning the attention: fascination, spatial experience and stage magic
Author(s) Pringle, P
Year 2012
Abstract The thesis claims that modernity has developed an increased sensibility to spatial experience: we have learned to attend to it in new ways. It suggests, however, that the pre-conditions for this existed in the changing spatial concepts of the 19th century and can be traced, as well as in that century’s new perceptual sciences, in its popular entertainments, and in particular, in the novel spatial manipulations that became characteristic of magical entertainments during the period of the study (1850-1930). These, which harnessed natural phenomena for their effects, made no claim to supernatural agencies to explain them and yet created a sense of wonder in their time.

Today the manipulation of fascinating visual and visceral experience forms part of art and design practice. Spatial experience, which can be delightful, or make us laugh, or make us fall into a meditative silence, has become a medium through which something more can be said. The ways in which such experiences may be felt today as poetic, significant, joyful or moving still draw on many of the spatial concepts that informed the imagination of the later 19th century. The thesis identifies some of the factors that shaped these concepts, traces how their connotations shifted and regrouped during the years of the study, and discusses some of the different ways in which they are received today. The spatial concepts are considered in relation to today's discipline of interior design; a discipline which today is differentiated from interior decoration or from architecture by being a discipline of performance and experience, rather than of composition or style. Performance and experience, in this context, refer to the nuanced totality of the entanglement of these things in this place with these people at this moment in time, rather than any designed 'experience' or spectacular event.

The project focuses on the years 1850-1930, since these were both the 'golden age' of stage magic, and also the period from which interior design emerged as a distinct profession. The thesis examines the proposition that the practice of interior design could be described as 'the practice of natural magic, an attempt to arrange life for maximum emotional and practical power'. Since the 19th century stage illusionist was also a practitioner of natural magic, I compare examples from both disciplines, suggesting that when these examples are considered as 'spatial entertainments', they offer insights into both the practical mechanisms that made them work, and also into the ideas, desires, pleasures and uneasinesses of a spatial nature that made them potent and fascinating to their contemporary audiences. By opening a different set of histories from the ones that are more usually considered relevant to design students or scholars today, the thesis offers other ways in which 'interiors' - their histories, their construction, their existence - may be considered, and suggests different antecedents and different futures for interior design, beyond current popular understandings of it as a discipline that is primarily para-architectural.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Architecture and Design
Keyword(s) stage magic
spatial experience
interior design
interior architecture
spatial entertainment
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Created: Tue, 11 Dec 2012, 16:24:26 EST by Brett Fenton
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