Magician Marco Tempest Dazzles a TED Audience with “The Electric Rise and Fall of Nikola Tesla”

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.

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  • susan says:

    Too bad that E. Thomp­son invent­ed and patent­ed the “Tes­la Coil”; that Jamws Maxwell and H.Hertz invent­ed radio;that
    the prac­ti­cal trans­former and A.C. sys­tem
    was invent­ed by C. Stein­metz, that the Polyphase Motor and Gen­er­a­tor were in use
    in Europe before Tes­la ” invent­ed” them.

    Tes­la’s world wire­less pow­er scheme is incor­rect sci­ence.

    WHY IS THERE a cult of tes­la?

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