Eda Sarman and Alice Bucknell: Magic Realism in Digital Art

The genre of magic realism has the unique capacity to make reality all the more real through a bizarre touch. Not to be confused with surrealism and science fiction, it stands apart because it possesses just enough reality. Instead of overloading an aesthetic or narrative with fantastic elements, it simply and tactfully sprinkles the impossible around in small doses. As a result, magic realist works of art emphasize just how odd our realities can be. The notion of vacationing at the end of the world is crazy, yet in current times, the idea of an apocalyptic holiday highlights a sentiment that rings true in lockdown.

In a series of articles, Electric Artefacts sheds light on the various facets of Vacation at the End of the World. This week will focus on how magic realism intertwines with digital art.

Detail of Eda Sarman's the weather is getting so nice, 2019

An excellent example of how an exaggerated manifestation of reality could explain a moment in time better than any realist work, is Eda Sarman's piece "spring's arrival wrapped the earth with mutation". In the spring of 2020, when the world was first thrust into crises and lockdown, Sarman one morning decided to walk around Istanbul's deserted Emirgan Park, where usually the lanes and fields would be crowded by visitors to the Tulip Festival. People stayed away this year, yet the flowers bloomed anyway and filled the landscape with colour as far as the eye could see, almost in defiance of humanity's grasp on nature. By mimicking the overflow of tulips in her piece, Sarman captures the absurdity of the moment.

Another work by Sarman that suffuses the fantastical with the real is "the weather is getting so nice". Here, Sarman blends an old Turkish legend with coastal scenes familiar to today's Turkey. After receiving a prophecy that his daughter would die by her 18th year, the tale relates how an emperor built the Maiden Tower to protect her, only for the maiden to be bitten by a snake hidden in a fruit basket sent for her birthday. Perhaps it is another warning that nature lurks in our shadows, even on pleasant summer days.

Detail of Alice Bucknell's E-Z Kryptobuild: Promo & Backstage, 2020

Yet the magic in magic realism doesn’t always have to come forth out of fairytale tulips and malicious snakes. In Alice Bucknell’s piece “E-Z Kryptobuild: Promo & Backstage'' it is initially the digital rendering that sets the narrative apart from any realism. The piece presents promotional material for a seasteading project that doesn’t look overly dissimilar from projects like the Palm Islands in Dubai. Indeed, some of the film's images are actual materials created by existing organizations or architects. Bucknell takes these renderings and pieces them together, emphasizing the complete absurdity of the plans. Playing up the bizarreness even more, the short film has a voiceover selling the luxuries of forgetting environmental apocalypse, leaving it behind to live in futuristic resorts. The work is made all the more powerful precisely by the fact that some of the elements Bucknell uses come straight out of reality. Like Sarman with her tulips, Bucknell rearranges that which already exists to emphasize the absurdity of what is in front of us.

Still of Alice Bucknell's E-Z Kryptobuild: Promo & Backstage, 2020

Magic realism captures the real in the bizarre, and the bizarre in the real. A lot of our reality is invested in the digital nowadays, and that sometimes becomes a bizarre situation in and of itself. Our realities are constantly adapting and evolving, and our perceptions of what is unconventional may morph. New technologies come into our lives and change what previously may have been considered outlandish. Perhaps digital art and magic realism can assist in confronting and renegotiating our relationship to the real and the strange.

Cover image by Eda Sarman, still from spring’s arrival wrapped the earth with mutation, 2020

Written by
Nina Lissone
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