Women boxed

ISCP, NY in 2017
14 February 2017
women boxed, an exhibition of work by Elaine Byrne, in ISCP’s first floor Project Space. women boxed is a three-channel video installationthat invites dialogue about how womens’ labour is viewed in society , and includes footage of the renowned female magician, Dorothy Dietrich. 

The world of magic has been dominated by men where the magician actively drives the story and the female assistant functions as a spectacle for the male gaze. The magician’s assistant brings the act to a stop and captures the spectator’s gaze and excess – she freezes the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation. Parallel to today’s world of ever-present gender inequality, the female assistant to the magician plays the role of victim – she is a woman who is literally encased in a box, awaiting her fate. While the male magician saws her in half, he is propelled to fame, as the audience delights in the female assistant being subjected to peril and pain. Effectively, the female assistant, largely responsible for the success of the trick, is hardly recognized. 


One of three videos was recently filmed on location at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Dietrich is Director. She speaks about her role as a female magician in a male-dominated industry. Elaine Byrne sought out Dietrich, who became known as “the first woman to saw a man in half.” At a time when women continue fighting for many freedoms and equalities all over the world, Byrne alludes to these struggles through entering the arena of magic and illusion.