Summer 2007

Artist Project / Tommy Angel

Sacrament and snake oil

Jonathan Allen

The preacher, the magician, and the politician are kindred spirits. Performers all—replete with the exotic trappings of their trade, bearers of secret language and gesture, theatricalized instantiations of transcendental powers—they enact their minor miracles before audiences only too eager to believe. Tommy Angel, the revivalist magician alter ego of British artist Jonathan Allen seen in the two photographic works below, unites the range of these iconic beguilers in one unnervingly slick pulpiteer. At once drawing on and destabilizing the rituals of stage conjuring, the symbolic landscape of proselytizing evangelicalism, and the political instrumentalization of fundamentalist conviction, Angel and his strategic snake-oil gospel pull back the curtain on the sleight-of-hand that inevitably operates behind the scenes of any organized system of belief. “Faith,” says the Bible, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” For Tommy Angel, the nature of faith—magical, religious, or political, not to mention artistic—is just as much about style as substance, and even the most “reliable” evidence is made to seem as uncertain as the location of the pea in a street corner shell game.

Jonathan Allen is a London-based visual artist, writer, and sometimes stage magician. His performance alter ego Tommy Angel has performed recently at Tate Britain, the De La Warr Pavilion, and the first Singapore Biennale. Recently awarded the Helen Chadwick Fellowship at the British School in Rome, Allen will present his current project Kalanag at David Risely Gallery, London, in early 2008. For more information, visit

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