Photo Credit_ Ari Isenberg_edited.jpg
Photo Credit: Ari Isenberg

Taken By Artificial Surprise

Performance and installation series by Jeanette Andrews exploring magic, surprise, and machine learning.

On View: Thursday, July 28 - Sunday, July 31, 2022 

Performances: 7:30 pm (Approximately 20-30 minutes)

Register for Free Tickets (required):


This performance and installation series explores the relationships among magic, machine learning, and surprise as it welcomes attendees to step inside a thought experiment – a Turing Test of sorts. Taken by Artificial Surprise utilizes historic parlor magic to examine hierarchies of surprise and the human creation of surprise as compared and contrasted to that of machines. What might performances of the seemingly impossible demonstrate about the capabilities and limitations of both machine learning and the human mind? Andrews invites participants to think about whether surprise is a unique, defining factor of human consciousness and how the mechanisms that create surprise lie deep within the gaps of lived and learned personal and cultural experience. 


​The performance aspect of this work showcases magic effects with varying levels of surprise factors. The performance aspect of this work showcases magic effects with varying levels of surprise factors. Andrews presents historic pieces of magic alongside algorithmically generated magic effects that she has devised ways to perform in reality. Participants might find themselves a bit unsure as to which may be which.

In 1950, pioneering mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing wrote the seminal paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence." He drew inspiration from Victorian parlor games to imagine his own parlor-style amusement: the imitation game. This inspired the now-famous Turing Test and utilized the question, "can a machine take us by surprise?" as a way to investigate artificial intelligence. The installation references imagery from Victorian parlor games contrasted with a glossy, early technological ideal. Featuring oversized curtains in vinyl, rubber, velvet, chiffon, and leatherette, the work blends the language of the everyday with the surreal to highlight the ontological commitments often held about different materials. Some of the textiles are printed with text and diagrams from scientific studies, philosophical texts, and Andrews’s notebooks. Numerous semi-transparent black acrylic boxes contain unusual household objects derived from commonly cited nouns in historic magic catalogs; these objects are also utilized in the performances. In an adjacent gallery, a transparent TV plays a short film made in collaboration with cinematographer Ari Isenberg. It depicts Andrews reciting a script generated by OpenAI paired with visuals of classic magic props, filmed in a set modeled after the Cornell boxes that inspire CGI programmers.


Andrews also notes that “this project was inspired by my time as an Affiliate at metaLAB (at) Harvard. During this time I was fortunate to have encountered a diversity of ideas and research, and discourse with metaLAB members also greatly assisted the ideation process.”


Jeanette Andrews (1990) is a New York City-based artist, magician, and researcher. Andrews’s work focuses on the development of interactive magic and sensory illusions via performance, sculpture, installation, and audio. Over 27 years of specialized study and technical training in parlor and sleight-of-hand magic has now afforded her a distinct perspective on crafting experiences with nuanced, surreal visuals. Themes have included invisibility, impossible objects, the relationship between scent and magic, and how illusions can construct reality. Andrews works closely with museums and galleries to recontextualize magic within the cultural arts and explore this craft as a performance art medium. She has presented numerous commissioned works with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, including her 2020 “Invisible Museums of the Unseen,” which was later commissioned as a site-specific work for the Quebec City Biennial. Further site-specific works have been created for numerous museums including the Elmhurst Art Museum, Birmingham Museum of Art and International Museum of Surgical Science. She has held residencies at High Concept Labs in Chicago and The Institute for Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles. She is an Affiliate of metaLAB (at) Harvard. Illusion is Andrews’s life’s work and her performances have been praised by the Chicago Tribune, PBS, and the New York Times.

This work is made possible by Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc. and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.