Ethnographic studies of magic and mysticism, such as James Frazer’s nineteenth century Golden Bough, place magic as a cultural practice that precedes science and therefore rational, modern progress. Influential to early twentieth century psychoanalysis and Surrealist practice, the primitive (as the orientalist Other) was a signifier for the irrational, mystical, and the unconscious. Today, commoditised new age culture looks to the orient for spiritual significance however the cultural appropriation of ‘spirituality’ is often overlooked in terms of its impact on the identity of the Other.
The photographic installation Mobility of Happiness addresses the question of how magic is performed through the proliferation of signifiers of magic and Thai culture. The work draws on documentary photography of animist rituals and uses strategies of appropriation, digital collage and sculptural assemblage to create distance from the ethnographic gaze of the camera. In doing so, it highlights the tenuous nature of determining magical otherness for the purposes of cultural identification and commoditisation.