Marrying form and content, Swiss magician Marco Tempest uses the relatively new technology of projection mapping to illuminate several vignettes of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor of alternating current, the hydroelectric dam, and hundreds of other necessary, fantastic, and sometimes tragically unrealized technologies. Over the course of the 20th century, Tesla was overshadowed by his onetime employer, Thomas Edison, who is given credit for Tesla’s most famous ideas. Edison has emerged from history as less a scientist than a venture capitalist, arch-marketer, and popularizer of other, smarter people’s ideas (those of filmmaking team the Lumiere Brothers, for example), while Tesla’s reputation as a mystic genius has only grown since his death in relative obscurity and absolute poverty in 1943.
Tesla has occupied a prominent place in popular culture for over two decades now: There was David Bowie’s performance as the inventor in 2006’s The Prestige, a 2001 biography simply entitled Wizard, and, of course, the success of very earnest 90s hair metal band Tesla. Forecasting the Tesla revival, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark recorded their song “Tesla Girls” in 1984. A new Tesla legacy to watch is the pioneering high-end electric car company Tesla Motors, founded by PayPal billionaire Elon Musk. Whether or not Tesla Motors’ expensive new fully-electric sedan lives up to its promise, Nikola Tesla’s name lives as an exemplar of ambition, futurism, persistence, scientific wonder, and as Marco Tempest demonstrates above, the importance of enthusiastic showmanship.
J. David Jones is currently a doctoral student in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.