Universal Keys, 2016 (Artefact commission)

© Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys, 2016 (Artefact commission) © Center for Tactical Magic

Universal Keys, 2016 (Artefact commission)

Center for Tactical Magic

In Universal Keysan installation especially made for Artefact: The Act of Magic, five thousand “universal” handcuff keys hang on a wall in a formation that creates an optical illusion of two interlocking links. Visitors are invited to take a key for personal use.  

Aaron Gach, founder of the Center for Tactical Magic, explains:

Perhaps it is the illusion of control and liberation that first gave rise to the escape acts popularized by Houdini and other magicians. In escapology, or the art of self-liberation, (...) the illusion of overcoming an insurmountable restriction is at the core of the performance. Although Houdini performed numerous escapes from a variety of restraints, handcuff escapes continue to appeal to audiences seeking their own cathartic release from authoritarian control.
While the free public distribution of universal handcuff keys may suggest the potential for a public that is universally free, the illusory quality of the installation equally suggests that it may take more than a key to break free from the biopolitical controls that stem from the class contradictions that criminalize many in the first place. Offering visitors their own handcuff key invites the potential for accomplishing their own self-liberation. Although it is completely legal to purchase, own, and carry a handcuff key in most countries, possession of such a key is also sure to invite scrutiny. While some will assert that it will allow criminals the ability to escape, others will insist that people at large have been routinely criminalized yet possess the keys to their own liberation.
Similarly, notions of security and threat are seen as linked to our collective desires for freedom and safety as they form two parts of the same illusion. Does possession of a universal key truly enable the beholder? Or, does it simply make visible the material strengths and weaknesses of state power? In what context might such a key open up new possibilities for understanding power relations? Ultimately, these are questions to be answered by those who hold the keys.

Center for Tactical Magic (USA)
°2000, San Francisco

The Center for Tactical Magic is founded in 2000 by Aaron Gach. This collective is known for their performances, installations and exhibitions that explore social, political and historical issues. Society and its problems are being approached from a ‘magical’ perspective. Humor, surprises, disguises and other ideas from tactical magic offer a new alternative view on reality.


21 FEB - 9 MAR 2017


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