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[Schm]alchemy: Magical sites and mischievous objects – episodes in a performative inquiry into the transformative and disruptive potency of stuff

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posted on 28.07.2016, 13:22 by Gillian Whiteley
This paper builds on Isabelle Stengers' suggestion that we need to reclaim magic, sorcery and witchcraft as a means of refuting the stable rational subject. Working with current philosophical and critical ideas around 'new materialisms', it emerges from a longstanding set of research preoccupations related to the affective, disruptive and provocative properties of things. The episodic text ruminates on these ideas through a series of 'site-written' narratives on the traces of sorcery and radical political histories in the villes and forests of Limousin, France, intercepted by passages of analysis of the author's involvement (2009 - 2015) in the live art multimedia performance group, Alchemy/Schmalchemy. Adding the pre-fix 'schm' to alchemy, the group conjures an intentionally disruptive and mischievous performance space of oscillation, characteristically presenting a hotch-potch of erudition, quackery and avante-gardeist trappings. Simultaneously adhering to and repudiating conventional ambitions of performance, it purposively produces an uncomfortable but potentially creative tension. In its most recent live art 'manifestation' (Manchester, 2015), the group worked with a collection of found objects, exploring their potential for distributed agency with participants. In the process, it engaged in a form of practice-based enquiry that has wider ontological, epistemological, aesthetic and political implications. (Alongside the written paper, excerpts from video and text-based items used in live performances - or 'manifestations' - are provided, as well as photographic and video documentation of selected performances)



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • Arts

Published in

Body, Space and Technology




WHITELEY, G., 2016. [Schm]alchemy: Magical sites and mischievous objects – episodes in a performative inquiry into the transformative and disruptive potency of stuff. Body, Space and Technology, 15.


© the Authors. Published by Brunel University


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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at:

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This paper was accepted for publication in the journal Body, Space and Technology and the definitive published version is available at





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