Aura Box: Animism in the Spectrum of Capitalism, 2022

In contemporary Western culture, especially since the rise of Wicca in 1950, Witchcraft has a negative meaning for women. The theory that Witchcraft is a remnant of European paganism became popular in the 20th century, and Witchcraft was developed to explain strange mishaps similar to the evil eye. The way of viewing the world as primitive witchcraft animism is a way of perceiving and explaining the world that is missing at present. Historically: Europeans have evolved from animism to polytheism, to monotheism, and the highest stage of science, from nature to civilization. In contrast, the indigenous peoples of North America, South America, Africa, and West Asia have been left behind on this theory of evolution and remain barbaric remnants in the state of nature. This article tries to reveal how the artist as subject from the perspective of colonialism creates a spiritual. As Simon O’Sullivan write in Magic Documents of Contemporary Art. There’s a western thought of a pre-modern channeling work (that can include a colonial look), but there are moreover the West's claim channelling capacities where innovation is assemble so as to get to something past the known (modern budgetary rebellious such as subordinates, for case, are a shape of divination that emerge from progressed computation). …How at that point to unravel these diverse thoughts and pictures, these diverse stories and myths - to decolonize the past, show and future - so as to debilitate a white western look, but moreover so as not to lose locate of any genuine choices to a incurable  show?[1]

In general, the Animism attempts to envision the return of modern European history as its opposite: not as a story about the rise of science or the evolution of secular societies and enlightened subjects, but as the invention and production of inanimate beings by non-free matter, as a the imaginary part, its material organization in capitalism constitutes modern society and power. Before the age of big data, finding discs on the dusty shelves of video rental stores was common. Also, as an archive of childhood: The Shadow Puppet Theater is a magical box that interprets allegories into dismembered moving bodies, like magic tricks. Sergei Eisenstein imbued early Disney animation with tremendous energy.[2]In his view, the character's limbs can expand and contract at will, and the image can also be deformed without being constrained by various natural or social laws. The Plasmatics he talked about also exist similarly in shadow puppetry[3]. This optical stage is a kind of witchcraft from Asia to summon animism and transform people's thoughts. This kind of Animism seeks to show that the power of animation involves more inclusive and political questions of what it means to be included in sociality and under what conditions. Decolonizing the term animism means using it as an optical tool for seeing the boundary-making practices of modern colonial discourse. These optical multimedia contents reflect through the realism of the images the psychics of animation and how they are disseminated through cinema and mass media. Similarity, Museums become magic boxes of aura and sites of political vision, for example, in the collections of large western museums and cultural relics from China, Greece, and other countries. The objects within these museums undergo a transformation process that takes them out of context rather than exposing them in their country of origin, making them objects of colonial animation. In the introductory text of Les statues meurent aussi (1953), it is pointed out that spirits, about inanimate beings, are a fictional part of the material that constitutes modern social and power structures in capitalism. A narrative voice that interrelates text, image, and artist video reflect decolonization, seeking to use the medium of video or the museum box as an optical tool to highlight the practice of modern colonial discourse.

Animism is not merely the transfer of living properties into objects or nature. However, it examines the boundary between symbols created by humans and non-human things, between conscious human subjects and inanimate objects, thus representing colonial cultures of the non-European world have been represented fundamentally; works of art are guides for exploring these frontiers, and museums, as we are accustomed to conceiving of them, are not the envelopes that contain their aesthetic and colonialism. The Magic Box is a unique collection of items that confuse traditional archival or art historical descriptions. The magic box as a way of "animism" or fetishism reveals that artists must re-understand their archives, or in other words, Fabulation artists are like magicians to some extent. They make up their fiction about objects, memory, and the magic box. These magical boxes are like ghosts, constantly reactivating dead objects and files. After first being exposed to Surrealist collage in 1931, Joseph Cornell began working in this form, eventually extending it to three-dimensional box structures. He is more interested in evoking fascinating worlds of the past and the future. Cornell incorporated printed images and found objects into his boxes. They were often filled with tokens of European culture. Andy Warhol's Time Capsules were completed in the second half of his life by collecting various objects and storing them in cardboard boxes to be used one day again.[4] As in The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away, by Russian-American artist Ilya Kabakov: Grouped together, bound in folders, these papers comprise the single uninterrupted fabric of an entire life, …that comprises the genuine and only real fabric of my life, no matter how ridiculous and absurd this may seem from the outside.[4]

The same magic box is also reflected in Storage Piece, a work by Korean artist Heague Yang. Due to the lack of storage space, the artist collected all the returned works after the exhibition and named them "Storage Pieces," just like the shipping company packaged them. She gives life to the content and context of individual works of art that are not immediately accessible. In her later work, she combines animistic and objects packaging, traditional Asian weaving, and folk totems to create a magical ritual of institutional intervention. Whether it is the Christ in Danh Vo's suitcase, the envelope, or the gold leaf carton, it is a magic box about faith, capital, colonization, religion, and intimate narrative. In Danh Vo's collaboration with Martin Wong at the Guggenheim, the display case hanging on the wall is filled with various small items, knickknacks, paintings, books, and Utagawa Kuniyoshi's same-sex woodblock prints in 1860, ceramic figurines flank a cardboard box whose window cutouts reveal a statue of Shiva that also seems to speak of "disappearing" spirits in the vortex of global capital. [6]

Walter Benjamin objected to the halo of the commodity in his discussion of "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. For Benjamin, the aura is a quality that exists only outside of commodity production and technical reproduction. The meaning of a work of art lies in its unique presence in a particular place. The aura is a unique presence associated with worship and ritual, and it has a "unique value" and claims "authenticity." Instead, commodity exchange and technological replicability lead to uniqueness and the destruction of authenticity, thus leading to the demise of the aura.[7]However, it is indeed possible to glimpse those lost archives and cultural phenomena in such a fetishistic capital era through the magic cast by artists.

[1]  Magic, edited by Jamie Sutcliffe (Cambridge: The MIT Press, with Whitechapel Gallery, 2021), 24-69 and 186-229. Simon O’Sullivan, Fictioning Five Heads (On the Art-Anthropology Hybrid), (The MIT Press, 2018), 54.
[2]The text was first presented at the NECS Conference 2015 in Łódź (Poland) on a panel with Ada Ackerman, Natalie Ryabchikova and Elena Vogman entitled ‘Living Archives of Sergei Eisenstein: Correspondence, Library, Diary.’
[3]Claire Voon, The Enduring Power of Southeast Asia’s Traditional Shadow Puppets, (Hyperallergic, 2016,
[4]The Archive, edited by Charles Merewether (Cambridge: The MIT Press, with Whitechapel Gallery, 2006), 82-155 and 156-193. Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1st Edition, 1975), 31.
[5] The Archive. Ilya Kabakov, The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away, (Harry N Abrams Inc, 1st Edition 1977), 32.
[6]Joshua Chambers- Lesson, After the Party, Manifesto for Queer of Color Life, (NYU Press, 2018), 115.
[7]Steven Shaviro, Bootsy Collins, Benjamin, Warhol, and the Aura, (, 2005),

ⓒ 2024 Tingting Cheng