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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: April 2020

Three - Imprinting


In the previous chapter we considered ‘modelling’ as an artistic process capable of capturing some aspect of a prototype, often but not always through the creation of a reduced-scale stand-in. Use of the idea of ‘capture’ here implies that the prototype is somehow affected by its substitute – and this sounds almost magical. It is a principle (the ‘Law of Similarity’) that lies at the root of Frazer’s account of sympathetic magic: that by making a likeness of something one might gain some power over it. This is taken further by Michael Taussig in his work on mimesis.1 However, as Taussig underlines, Frazer identified not only a Law of Similarity, but also a Law of Contact or Contagion. That is to say, things that have been in contact may continue to act on each other even when separated. In terms of contagious magic, this is often described as the magic that can be performed using a person’s exuviae, such as fingernails or hair – once in contact with and part of the person, but still capable of being acted upon to gain some power over the person even at a distance. Taussig uses a different example, that of a horse’s hoofprint, required in the magic performed to change the mind of the horse’s owner.2 The hoofprint is an interesting case because, although it does follow the principle of contact, it is at the same time an image of (part of) the horse. Taussig goes on to argue that ‘in many, if not in the overwhelming majority of cases of magical practices in which the Law of Similarity is important, it is in fact combined with the Law of Contact’.3