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C (s) O (e) N (n) J (s) U (e) R (s) E: Adventures in Sensory Illusions

by Jeanette Andrews

Jeanette Andrews, Thresholds

Photo: Nikki Hedrick, courtesy of the artist

Sometimes it seems as though our lives are an amazing, continually unfolding magic effect, deeply embedded in wonder—indeed, a conjured life. I am honored to be performing in conjunction with the MCA's current exhibition, Surrealism: The Conjured Life, and to share my immersive and interactive work, Thresholds. This theatrical magic performance, which takes place January 26, explores each of the five senses through illusions and takes visitors on a physical journey through the museum.

Philosophers have long wondered, “Can we trust our senses? Is seeing believing? What happens when our perceptions become distorted or don’t coincide with our expectations?”

Growing up a magician, I was particularly fascinated with perception. You believe that you see a playing card vanish . . . but where is that illusion created? Is it something in the physical world? Is it a construct of your mind? Could it be your expectations, or perhaps something else altogether? Illusions perfectly demonstrate how fluid, malleable, and personal our perceptions can be. I love looking for such loopholes in the perceptual process as I design experiential illusions.

Exploring these questions while drawing attention back to the simple, amazing moments of everyday life—this is my role as a conjurer and guide to these particular thresholds. I seek to highlight this sense of inquisition, especially in this digital age where we seem to crave wonder, yet experience it more often through technology rather than personal connections and real-world experiences.

Our lives seem to be made up of our perceptions, transmitted to us via the beautiful revolving doors of our senses. During my 2014 artist residency with Escape to Create, I embarked on a quest to explore our sensory perceptions of illusions, investigating how they occur and, in turn, construct our realities. Using the rich history and techniques of obscure magic performances, modernized for today’s audiences, I combine these effects with interactive theater, installation art, and scientific oddities to craft interactive experiences where together the audience and I can delve into the mysteries of our perceptions.

Join me on January 26 as we collaborate in conjuring our own sensory illusions. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite perceptual oddities:


Blind Sight . . . is there a sixth sense? Absolutely riveting.


A fun summary of the most well-known auditory illusions. My personal favorite is the Tritone Paradox, something that we delve into during Thresholds.

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Can non-amputees feel a phantom limb? Can we experience the physical sensations of another human? The rubber hand illusion and mirror-touch synesthesia explain . . .

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Smell & Taste

An old vaudeville stunt highlighted the relationship between smell and taste. A participant was shown a red apple and a green apple. After being blindfolded and holding their nose, they would be given a slice and asked to determine if it was from the red or green apple. They were then given a slice of . . . a potato. Almost inevitably, the participant would give an answer of red or green, while happily munching on the potato.

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