At the turn of the 20th Century, many artists such as Picasso and Matisse looked to the study of anthropology and ethnography as inspiration for their work. Their chosen source materials ranged from the African continent to the Philippines and beyond. Museums such as the Horniman and Museum of Mankind filled their shelves with Objects D'Art satisfying the appetite for exotic world cultures.
In the exhibition Before Magic Dies by artists Joseph Lewis and David Steans, opening at the Gone Tomorrow Gallery Saturday 26 January, the inspiration is drawn from the museum and its interpretation rather than the field, and cinematography's romanticism of world and folk cultures (such as Dances with Wolves, Cannibal Holocaust and the Wicker Man).
Though the exhibition uses familiar aesthetic tropes of ethnography and anthropology, Before Magic Dies does not attempt to tap into an existing mythology, but rather seeks to create its own. The culminating result is a fictional film shown in a faux-museological context alongside the artefacts made for and inspired by its production.
Before Magic Dies is the second work in an ongoing collaboration between Lewis and Steans. The work's title is taken from a little known book called Before Nature Dies, which portrays our contemporary existence on the verge of natural collapse. The book is illustrated with images of doomed animals, and the world's resources being drawn from the earth; oil fields, coal mines etc. Before Magic Dies hints at a similar draining of resources on the brink of existence.