Machina Incantatii (Spell Machine) by Anna Nolda Nagele

‘Machina Incantatii’ (latin for ‘Spell Machine’) was conceived to explore the question of how digital tools can be used to create and introduce spiritual experiences by emulating a magical ritual of spell writing. Creation of individualised texts can inspire users to explore their thoughts and find answers within themselves through interpreting the short texts. By associating the output with a request by the user to the machine, trying to find meaning in the relation of  the output to the input, it can help the user to find an answer to what they are looking for. Written words can make up things and thus create new meanings and thoughts.

‘Machina Incantatii’ is a wall hanging made of conductive yarns and fabrics that combines physical and representational materials into an interface for a magical ritual. Each individual is encouraged to select one element and one planet for their personal incantation by touching the conductive patches on the cloth. Based on the assigned powers of the selected items, the digital shrine generates a spell.

A combination of ‘old’ periodic alignments (the stars) with ‘new’ periodic alignments (the Markov Chain) leads to a poetic generation of texts. The outcomes are unique and personal non-linear verses. The Markov Chain is a statistical model often used in natural language processing (the automatic generation of texts), where sentences are generated word for word. The sequence is based on the likelihood of all possible words which could follow each previous word. All possible words are based on existing texts which have been written for and assigned to each planet and element.   

The work was knitted and stitched from different fabrics, threads and e-textiles. E-textiles are able to conduct electricity while having all properties and form of normal fabrics. To use soft materials for the interface and crafting it by hand was chosen to present a contrast to stereotypical images of mass-produced technology being cold, rigid and slick. Soft and textured surfaces are inviting to be touched. The physical activity of having to move the arms to reach out to the selected patches, which is necessary due to the size of the wall hanging in relation to a human, can be observed as ritualistic movements.

Similarly to the Markov Chain which stitches word for word to form a poem, the fabric is embroidered and stitched together, layering different fragments of information. Conductive yarns hold the piece together and thus its visual information, textiles, the user’s choice and the algorithm. Information flows through the piece, which is reassembled into new information through the algorithm and the output is displayed as the magic spell back to the user.

Anna Nolda Nagele is an experience designer and PhD candidate in Media and Arts Technology at Queen Mary University London, where she is researching human-machine communication and the identities of digital subjects through storytelling. Her practice evolves around the creation of narratives in new media that imagine different realities. Most recently she has worked on an Audio Augmented Reality experience research project for BBC R&D; and on the development of wearable technology for female intimacy and sensuality. Anna exhibited projects at Ars Electronica Festival 2019 (Linz, Austria) and Cuntemporary EcoFutures Festival 2019 (London, UK). She graduated from the MA Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins in 2016 with a thesis on storytelling for change.