Magician-Computer Interaction Designer Makes Technoccult Artifacts
Digital and electronic occultist Joshua Madara explores how technology and magic come together in his work.
Animated and responsive ritual projections
This is the first in a series exploring the connections between art and magic.
By definition, magic is the ability to exercise control and influence over reality through the use of mysterious forces. In this sense, the still-mysterious inner workings of technology can serve as a platform for artists and magicians such as Joshua Madara, whose mystical works merge occultism with the digital world. Through his multidisciplinary methodology, Madara delivers compelling oracular and cryptic finished pieces rendered in a variety of media, all united by a common theme: magic.
Madara's interest in arts and the occult first manifested about 20 years ago, and for the last decade, he's been working on his distinct hybrid of arcana-infused art and technology. What began as a personal interest evolved into a serious occult practice with art that continues to reflect Madara's experimentation with ways to combine the digital world with the supernatural.
"Magic, to me, is an intersection or union of the mystical, spiritual, divine, daemonic, metaphysical, paranormal, or supernatural, with the physical, material, mechanical, electrical, or digital," Madara explains. "It can manifest as an image that communicates something occult ('hidden') via icon, index, or symbol; an arrangement of objects that reveals insight into a situation; a spell that alters the world; or a change in someone's ability or behavior. For me, it needs to be practical or pragmatic; 'down-to-earth' in the sense of 'drawing down' what is 'above' and integrating it with what is 'below.'"
Today, Madara is working on a pair of ambitious projects involving the art of practicing magic through electronic means (technomancy) as well as practicing magic through a programmable "machine" that automatically executes actions (robomancy). "I am deeply committed to didactic exchange of information, and I employ mostly open-source and maker-friendly technologies, unless the spirit of the work demands something other," he says.
Madara's work is unique in that the end goal is not necessarily to create an engaging work of art, but rather, to carry out sorcery or divination with it. This is why he calls his pieces "artifacts" rather than simply artwork, because the pieces actually have a purpose: to effect magic. "I am more of an occultist than an artist," he adds. "The magic is primary, and its needs and the need for it inform my designs prior to aesthetic concerns."
Magical traditions from various eras and areas all feed into Madara's art. He counts ancient and medieval sorcery, as well as Hermeticism and alchemy, as influences. Not one to be restricted by any one tradition, though, the artist draws additional inspiration from the witchcraft of the British Isles, as well as African fetishism and divination. He's also influenced by postmodern forms, such as chaos magic and sabbatic craft, a term coined by late English magician Andrew D. Chumbley (who in 2004 died prematurely at the age of 37 from an asthma attack).
Madara believes "there are areas of conceptual and linguistic overlap" regarding the complex and diverse histories of art, magic, and technology. This belief explains why he’s also influenced by the history of technology, from vintage automata and early electrical technological equipment, to 20th century cybernetics, old computers, and contemporary new-media arts.
In terms of his own textual definition of magic, Madara cites a quotation from Jesper Sørensen's 2006 book, A Cognitive Theory of Magic: "Magic is about changing the state or essence of persons, objects, acts and events through certain special and non-trivial kinds of actions with opaque causal mediation."
"I maintain that magic is a distinct activity; people can do art without doing magic, or magic without doing art," Madara says. "But whenever someone makes an artwork to communicate an occult idea, evoke a numinous presence, or perform a sorcerous deed, the work of making that art is part of the art-work." (The artist adds that the hyphen in "art-work" is intentional.)
Over the ages, a language of magic has developed through the accumulation of a variety of visual symbols in the form of sigils, amulets, talismans, and other often fetishized objects used as ceremonial tools. This, Madara believes, is why practitioners like he are often required to become artists as well, because they need to create their own objects. "Likewise, an artist's initiations, esoteric or otherwise, are crucial to the efficacy of her art," Madara says.
Despite the deep historical roots of magic, however, practitioners of the occult continue to look to the future in order to find ways in which they are able to succesfully practice magic, and in this way, the occult itself remains a perennially modern phenomenon.
"Technology is rapidly changing the variety of ways people can make—art or anything—and the stuff that I and those like me are doing with art, magic, and technology is just the tip of an iceberg. I look around at new computer programs and programming languages, affordable and easy-to-program micro-controllers, electronic prototyping platforms, 3D printers, laser cutters, desktop CNC mills, electrically conductive inks and paints, wearable electronics, virtual reality headsets, augmented reality mobile apps, projection mapping, gesture recognition, brain-computer interfaces, the Internet of Things, DIY bio, hacker spaces, maker culture... and I envision a world of what Roy Ascott calls 'technoetic arts,' much greater than what I find happening presently. To anyone interested, get on it! This is an exciting time to make magic, and what we make today will help determine what the future holds."
Ritualgorithm/Algoritual, concept design