The CTM presents a new interrogation of power dynamics. Existing at a technological crossroads where torture, recreation, magic, and self-liberation merge together, Witches’ Cradles (2009) are an interactive public installation based on a contemporary re-envisioning of a medieval torture device.
“During the witchcraft persecutions in Europe, Inquisitors are said to have sometimes put an accused witch in a bag, which was strung up over the limb of a tree and set swinging. When witches’ learnt about this punishment they experimented with it themselves and found that the sensory deprivation or confusion of senses induced hallucinatory experiences. A similar swinging motion has long been used by shamans and dervishes and is sometimes known as ‘dervish-dangling’.”
– Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology
Devised initially for interrogation and torture, the witches’ cradle was eventually reclaimed by its potential victims for flights of fancy and inward journeys to altered states of consciousness. Since then, the past 100 years alone have shown us an array of antecedents that cast both shadows and light on the witches’ cradle, ranging from backyard tire swings to mob lynchings; from New Age sensory deprivation tanks to the haunting images from Guantanamo Bay. Even Houdini’s famed illusion, Metamorphosis (in which he freed himself from a locked and tied canvas sack), promised “self-liberation” and “change in 3 seconds.”
The Center for Tactical Magic’s re-envisioning of the witches’ cradle plays on these historical notes while suggesting a present-day desire to conjure positive transformation. Each cradle consists of a large 5-pointed star designed to simultaneously evoke its magical origins, imperial state power, and a cosmic source of light amidst darkness. After sitting in the center pentagon, the points of the star close overhead as the cradle is hoisted off the ground, allowing the participant to swing gently in the darkened center of the collapsed star. Like a black hole, a holding cell, or a metaphysical amusement ride, the Witches’ Cradles distort time and space. It is at this event horizon that the Witches’ Cradles create a place where one can begin to realize an altered state and contemplate the next course of action.
The Witches’ Cradles can be experienced at the Shift Festival of electronic arts and new media in Basel, Switzerland running from Oct 22 – 25, along with our collection of contemporary Wands. This year’s theme for Shift? “Magic. Tech-Evocations and Assumptions of Paranormal Realities”… Enough said.
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