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Magical Thinking Symposium


  • Archive

  • Saturday, November 11, 2023
  • Free; limited capacity, first come, first served
  • Club B10

Magical Thinking is a free public symposium exploring causal, alogical, and ritualistic modes of knowledge formation co-convened by artist manuel arturo abreu and curator, writer, and art historian Laurel V. McLaughlin in dialogue with MASS MoCA Director of Public Programs, Lisa Dent. It invites audiences to see signs, relationships, and links within the material and spiritual worlds through performances, lectures, poetry readings, experimental media presentations, and sound activations. Inspired by the work of artists manuel arturo abreu, DB Amorin, fields harrington, sidony o’neal, Jonathan González, and Africanus Okokon, the symposium unfolds as research in-progress, resisting the impulse to define inherent to symposium structures.

The public symposium departs from the denigrated phrase “magical thinking,” often used to parse superstition from logic. Western constructions of logic and the scientific method historically attempted to eradicate superstitious forms of prayer, ritual, and epistemological experimentation, but these methods of thought persisted. The artists will join participants Emilio Rojas, Tavia Nyong’o, Joshua Chambers-Letson, Rebecca Schneider, M. nourbeSe Philip, and S*an D. Henry Smith in a radical opening of their research that interrogates systemic exclusions of ritualistic knowledge and imagines its futural forms.

Saturday, November 11
All presentations are held in Club B10 (Building 10, 3rd floor) unless otherwise noted.


9–9:15am: A welcoming

  • Kristy Edmunds, MASS MoCA Director and Lisa Dent, Director of Public Engagement

9:15–9:40am: Introduction of Magical Thinking Public Symposium

  • manuel arturo abreu & Laurel V. McLaughlin, conference co-conveners

9:40–10:20am: Tezcatl (Smoking Mirror)

  • Emilio Rojas & Katiushka Melo
    Rojas’s performance Tezcatl (Smoking Mirror) with collaborator Katiushka Melo continues their investigation into the uses and resonances of obsidian mirrors in pre-Hispanic times by the Aztecs people and subsequently as a mystical tool for the occult within contemporary culture and art. Tezcatl (Smoking Mirror) specifically questions the artist Robert Smithson’s impersonation of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, the dynamics of power embedded in the exchange, and the spiritual consequences connected with the host material.

10:20–10:50am: bone flute: On Wilson Harris and the Caribbean quantum arts

  • manuel arturo abreu
    In a new performative talk with sound and piano, manuel arturo abreu explores Wilson Harris’ quantum fiction, in particular his concept of the Carib bone flute as a counter-narrative to the Catholic eucharist and the tyranny of predatory coherence in western cultures. Carib warriors would make a flute from the bone of a respected enemy, and bring it to their lips to silently play it or play at playing it. The ritual consumption of a morsel of flesh would make one stronger, and sits in opposition to Catholic transubstantiation (where the wine and cracker, despite accidents of appearance, truly “are” the flesh and blood of the Christ).

10:50–11:10pm: pulling (working title)

  • S*an D. Henry-Smith
    A tea ritual. A memory.

11:10–11:30am: Fugitive Intimacies

  • Tavia Nyong’o
    This presentation will reflect on Nyong’o’s journey from scholar to curator and back again, working alongside artists to devise intersectional, intergenerational, interfaith, and BIPOC/Trans/Queer-centered moments of evanescent togetherness.

11:30–11:45am: Q&A

11:45am–1pm: AFTERNOON BREAK

1–1:30pm: x-routes, big signal (“held in the network”)

  • DB Amorin
    The waves’ relentless roll, the deafening crush and soft effervescence of surf, the mercurial reflections of sand and surf amplified as glitch-heavy, prismatic visual metaphor for the diasporic condition. It is a cyclical motion that speaks its truth as gentle washes and bad frames, codified errors and blurred horizons. This iterative projection-based work transcribes a longing and turbulence that islanders never shake, and the steadfast recognition of the prismatic nature of the ocean itself: a technology, a lens, a birthplace, a tissue, and a pre-existing, non-human intelligence.

1:30–2pm: non-exhaustive work

  • fields harrington
    harrington’s talk/lecture seeks to explore the ontological nature of HeLa cells, whether they should be regarded as tangible biological entities or conceptual constructs.

2–2:20pm: ​​Quarry Song

  • Rebecca Schneider
    “Quarry Song” shifts magic away from the extractive sleight of hand of Bioeconomic Man to ask “what else” the site of extraction—whether stone or flesh—can be seen to conjure forth or heard to re-call.

2:20–2:50pm: Frequencies of Black Assembly and the Mythic

  • Jonathan González & Marguerite Hemmings
    González will share an excerpt from their in-progress manuscript, Ways To Move: Black Insurgent Grammars in the Modern Calculus, adjacent to an embodied score performed by collaborator Marguerite Hemmings.

2:50–3:05pm: Q&A

3:05–3:35pm: EVENING BREAK

3:35–4:05pm: COOL LOOC, pendular spells from the pankha, the labour of thermal machines, and sometimes the max-plus algebra

  • sidony o’neal
    o’neal’s talk-reading to share some research and convolution arising from the history of a human-powered cooling device.

4:05–4:35pm: fịre

  • Africanus Okokon
    fịre is an invitation to meditate on states of transition, the collapsing of time, the power of belief, and forgetting through audio/visual performance.

4:35–4:55pm: When the Light Makes Everything Gold and Magical in that City

  • Joshua Chambers-Letson
    Commencing from the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ interest in Los Angeles’ golden hour, a threshold time that he understood to be magical, this talk offers a meditation on the queer of color art of living with death and living with the dead.

4:55–5:25pm: The Poetics of High Science or Late but on time.

  • M. nourbeSe Philip
    A lecture-performance asking: What does it mean to be late but on time as it relates to the exploration of the poetics of High Science as it relates to the recombinant non-narrative that is Zong!.

5:25–5:40pm: Q&A

5:40–6pm: Processual Remarks

  • Lisa Dent, manuel arturo abreu, Laurel V. McLaughlin