Creative reenactments of historical immersive experiences [EN]

Martyn Jolly


For several years a collaborative team of composers, musicians, artists, performers and historians has
recreated the immersive experience of magic lantern shows for contemporary audiences. As part of the
research project ‘Heritage in the Limelight: The Magic Lantern in Australia and the World’ we have developed
live performances physically combining new creative elements with actual historical magic lanterns and glass
slides. In magic lantern shows audiences sat shoulder to shoulder in the dark and collectively experienced
visual and aural effects as transforming images interacted with voice and music. This ubiquitous apparatus
formed a fundamental archaeological substratum to the special effects of today’s media spaces. But for
contemporary audiences inured to subsequently developed media thrills, the apparatus’s original experiential
power can seem quaint and distant. Therefore, our intention has not been to ‘authentically’ reproduce an
historical event, nor to simply add a ‘retro’ flavour to a contemporary multimedia performance, but to develop
ways — ranging from algorithmic coding to microscopic glass painting —contemporary audiences can
reconnect with the original ‘magic’ of the lantern. We have used various strategies, including elements of
verbatim theatre, site specific reenactment, and creative re-use, to encourage our audiences to reflect on the
historical reality of the magic lantern show as an ‘experiential object’. Addressing the conference themes of
‘Photography, Cinema and Sound Archaeologies’, ‘Performance and Visual Media’, and ‘Cultural Heritage and
the Digital Age’, I will examine the new strategies historians and museums need to develop as heritage
becomes less tangible and more experiential. When historians are seeking to understand the immersive media
experiences of the past in their historical and material specificity, and museum visitors are seeking to engage
with their heritage in a more directly experiential way, what can be learnt from our creative, site specific,
performances of historical immersive technologies?


Dr Martyn Jolly is an honorary Associate Professor at the Australian National University School of Art and
Design. As lead investigator on the Australian Research Council Discovery Project ‘Heritage in the Limelight:
The Magic Lantern in the Australia and the World’ he has developed, along with the composer Dr Alexander
Hunter from the ANU School of Music and the historian Dr Elisa deCourcy from the ANU Research School
Humanities and the Arts, collaborative site-specific magic lantern shows at the Bundanon Trust (New South
Wales), the National Portrait Gallery (Canberra), the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Melbourne), Mount
Stromlo Astronomical Observatory (Canberra), the National Film and Sound Archive (Canberra), the Cellblock
Theatre (Sydney), ACT Historic Places (Canberra, forthcoming), and the Australian Centre for the Moving
Image (Melbourne, forthcoming). His recent publications include: ‘Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle:
the global career of showman daguerreotypist, J.W. Newland’, (co-authored with Elisa deCourcy), Bloomsbury
(forthcoming). ‘The magic lantern at work: witnessing, persuading, experiencing and connecting’, in The
magic lantern at work: witnessing, persuading, experiencing and connecting, New York: Routledge, edited by
Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy, 2020. ‘The magic lantern at the edge of empire: The experience of dissolving
views and phantasmagoria in colonial Australia’, in A Million Pictures: Magic lantern slides in the History of
Learning, KINtop studies in early cinema, Indiana University Press, Frank Kessler, Sarah Dellman, (eds)
(forthcoming) ‘The Circus and the magic lantern’ (co-authored with Elisa deCourcy), in Circus Science and
Technology: Dramatising Innnovation, edited by Anna-Sophie Jürgens, Palgrave Macmillan (forthcoming). ‘The
Light of the World: Transport and Transmission in Colonial Modernity,’ Journal of Early Popular Visual Culture,
Vol. 17, No. 2. ‘Practice-led research by creative re-use in the Australian Research Council Project Heritage in
the Limelight: The Magic Lantern in Australia and the World’, Journal of Early Popular Visual Culture, Vol. 17,


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