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Living in a world of enchantment

Posted on 2017-02-16 in Arts & Culture, Politics & Society

Frank Klaassen

by dee Hobsbawn-Smith

Frank Klaassen (associate professor, Department of History) has collaborated with David Porreca (University of Waterloo) on a new exhibit about magic that reveals the intersections between the medieval and modern worlds.

Porreca’s fellowship and the exhibit “Magic Ancient and Modern: Materials and Imagination” were funded in part through the support of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Culture and Creativity (ICCC). The exhibit runs Feb. 17 to Apr. 21 at the University of Saskatchewan’s Museum of Antiquities.

“The closer we look, the more we realize we are not very different from people in the medieval past whom we think of as living in a highly enchanted world,” said Klaassen. “Modernity is not about getting rid of magic, but about a disenchanted place.”

Klaassen specializes in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and is deeply interested in magic. “In my first-year class, a lot of students come in thinking I am interested in debunking magic,” he said, “and are surprised to learn that I am interested in understanding why it is compelling, why people felt it works, and why it does sometimes work.”

Klaassen and Porreca have designed modern digital interpretations of eight historic examples of pre-modern magic: for example, an iPad screen will simulate the ancient Greek Homeric Oracle with the user receiving a randomly selected line from Homer that they can interpret. Another display uses chiromancy to guide the viewer in interpreting his or her own palm.

“I’m interested in the ways in which people create magic. The creative moment is when you, the reader, do something with it,” said Klaassen. “I’m also looking at some modern magical tools that make this happen.”

“We enchant the world in modern ways and use scientific language to explain it,” said Klaassen. “This exhibit will help us ask and understand the creative processes that go with magic and see them in modern terms.”

 

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