By Chris Byrne
Seattle, Washington: Marquand Editions, 2014. Edition of 20.
15 x 9.5 x 14" box containing 11 pieces. Box on casters and with slots for the 11 items. Accompanied by a hat (11.5" diameter, height 8") with electrical plug and connector.
Techniques: letterpress, inkjet and digital printing, variety of binding styles, video.
Marquand Editions: "Chris Byrne's obsessional graphic novel took a decade to realize and another two years to produce. He and designer Scott Newton worked with Paper Hammer Studios to construct an audaciously ambitious bit of publishing magic."
Paper Hammer Studios: "The Magician is an epic graphic novel, a bookmaking tour de force, a mesmerizing art object, and the completion of over a decade-long obsession of author Chris Byrne. This enigmatic box of wonders houses a dozen separate publications, printed and hand bound using a variety of techniques.
"The books include Theogony, Handmade, Down the Head, Mountain Man/She-Wolf, Letterpress Flipbook, 4-Ply Toilet Paper, Moleskine, The Magician Manual, M-Phase, Unfinished Versions, Colophon, and Curtains."
The work includes an upside-down velveteen-covered magician's hat. The brim of the hat lifts to reveal a black toilet seat, which in turn lifts to reveal an electric-powered "flame". A fan blows white fabric which is lighted in colors when the unit is plugged in.
Dan Nadel: The Comics Journal "A Conceptual Flush: The Magician": "In 1987, at the tail end of his undergraduate art studies, Chris Byrne began a comic strip called The Magician. He returned to it in 2000. But then it developed into something else, only just finished in January 2013: 12 objects housed in, and dependent on, a facsimile of a magician’s box.
"Byrne’s succinct description of The Magician … It’s set in a public bathroom. The Magician is this character that goes through and reconciles opposites. Every misunderstanding I have about the universe is documented in these objects. And creation myths, too. But it’s all tongue-in-cheek.
"The Magician takes different forms. He is a sleeping figure. He is a hand. He is sperm. He is a cape.
"Each book/object uses some element of stage magic in the Mandrake the Magician sense of the term. And each asks the viewer/user to in some way engage or create herself.
"The first book, 'Theogony', depicts a birth of the hermaphrodite, uses oversized panels and a transparent hourglass shape, as well as pages that open and shut, creating (bathroom) infographic transformations of time and shape in order to achieve the toilet expulsion of The Magician.
"Maybe the most successful book is 'Handmade', which summarizes the basic concerns of Byrne’s: birth, death, eating and sex, but using entirely the stuff of children’s art, like paper plate drawings, hand puppets, leaves and hand shadows. The same book depicts the actual hands (no longer shadow puppets) creating structures of heaven and hell. And still another uses the basic form of the toilet and corresponding plunger to tell yet another creation myth of birth in a toilet.
"Maybe the most successful object is a folded poster, which, once unfurled, simultaneously resembles a magician’s cape and the actual hermaphroditic physiology. Bowtie included.
"Another book makes card patterns from sheets of toilet paper. Cards form patterns not for any real meaning but because they can, and life becomes a pattern of one thing on top of another, on top of another, until the whole thing gets flushed.
"Then there are a series of comic strips printed on specimen slides, which can be viewed through the lens built into the box. The strips emulate cellular movement. Another birth, another melding of forms.
"A hardbound standard size 'sketchbook' containing Byrne’s studies for the objects and imagery functions not as a 'behind the scenes look' so much as an artifact like all the rest. As if someone sat there sketching the objects in the box – deciphering it.
"The box works because it’s not only a container. It provides a soundtrack (endless flushing) as well as a screen for an animation (figures flushing), not to mention a lens for viewing specimen slides.
"And so Byrne, playing dumb, uses 'Magician' not as a caricature but as a category. It’s like 'magician' because of course – in the hokey rabbit in the hat way, that’s how things are created. Something out of nothing: It’s magic. So we begin with a simple trick in which a hermaphrodite is created. And we move on and on."