Axel Adler – The hand is quicker than the eye

Blink and you’ll miss it. Don’t blink, and you’ll still miss it. Axel Adler’s illusions will make you doubt your own eyes.

Axel Adler has been talking for over an hour when he gets up and walks over to a side table. But not to get a cup of coffee though. He returns with a small spoon in his hand. Walking back to us, he mutters something under his breath, cursing the spoon for being difficult to bend. “What’s this made of? Solid iron?”

No Uri Geller tricks here, in other words.

He sits down and holds the spoon upright, between his thumb and index finger and wiggles it.

“Anyway, you can see the optical illusion, it looks like the spoon is made of rubber, right?”

I nod and frankly I’m a little bit excited, because I get it now. It’s just an illusion!

“So now, if I do this,” he says, holding the spoon with both hands by its tip and neck, and making bending moves with his fingers, “…it looks like the spoon is bending, but that’s just your eyes playing a trick on you,” he says.

Three seconds later, he holds the spoon in his hand.

It’s bent.

Which is exactly what was supposed to happen – except that it was supposed to be merely an optical illusion.

Adler smiles and puts the spoon away.

“You see,” he says, with a smile. “You can’t really trust your eyes.”

Nor should you trust a magician, and Adler is a good as they come.

He began his career at the age of eight when he got a children’s magic box. Fast-forward 25 years and he’s a three-time Swedish champion in magic and one-time Nordic Grand Prix winner. Adler, or Adlercreutz as his name is on official travel documents, has been a magic consultant on several TV productions, studied pantomime, juggles and holds a degree in Physical Comedy at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts.

But lately, his career has really been picking up steam.

Last year, he held lectures at several magic congresses, and in June, he was a guest performer at a World Magic Championships gala show in South Korea. Shortly before that, he had a week’s residency at the Magic Castle, an old Gothic mansion officially open only to registered members of the Academy of Magical Arts, a magic world’s “Who’s Who,” ranging from Dai Vernon – “The Man Who Fooled Houdini” – to David Blaine and Penn & Teller. Adler has performed there twice and a return has already been booked for this year.

High-profile performances suit Adler. In 2017, he performed a ring illusion – in which a large ring seems to have a life of its own and in which he pulls a scarf through the ring’s frame – on Penn & Teller: Fool Us. On the TV show, magicians try to perform a trick in a way that the famous magical duo can’t explain. Adler didn’t manage to fool the hosts, but he did entertain 1.5 million viewers.

Adler combines his magic skills, pantomime and physical comedy with contemporary circus and ideas of trompe-l’œil – an art technique in which objects are painted to look three-dimensional – to create some- thing unique on stage.

“Can you imagine how wild a painting in which a boy is stepping out of the frame must have looked to people in the 17th century? My goal is to create that effect live on stage,” he says.

In one performance, the magician appears to have three legs, which he throws around so that the audience can’t really be sure which one of them – if any – is fake. It’s funny, graceful and surprising – and magical, in a nontraditional way. (For the record, he has two legs.)

“It doesn’t even matter that you know how I do it, it still works, because there’s a strange dialogue between our reptilian brain and our common sense. If I push my arm behind a curtain, and another person does the same standing behind the same curtain, for a second you’ll think my arm is four meters long. We instinctively go for the simplest answer, and that fascinates me,” Adler says.

“Misdirection is based on the fact that our reptilian brain wants to look in the same direction as others.”

Adler’s illusions push the boundaries between magic shows and dance and performance art. Is it magic? Is it art? Does it matter?

“Axel’s solo shows are unlike traditional magic shows, because they’re very visual. He can see things others can’t, he knows the solution to doing a trick even before he tries it,” adds Robert Jägerhorn, a Helsinki-based magician colleague.

Even physically, Adler is something of an illusion. He’s 33, but he could easily pass as someone in their mid-20s. He lives in a Stockholm suburb and seeing him amble around town with his backpack, you’d be hard- pressed to think he’s one of world’s elite magicians.

And that’s just the way he likes it.

“I’d rather get recognized in the magic circles for my work than on the street,” he says.

He’s already a respected creator of tricks, even classics.

Inventing and perfecting a trick takes time, which is also one of the biggest secrets magicians have. On another Penn & Teller episode, a magician named Kostya Kimlat found a card by sending the cards fly- ing in the air and grabbing the correct one in midair. The trick? That there was no trick. It was simply the result of twenty years of practice.

“People won’t believe anybody would go that far, or that somebody would use advanced technology just for a magic trick. You’d have to be crazy to do that. They’d rather believe that they’ve been hypnotized, for example, which is much, much harder to do,” he says.

Meanwhile, Adler is toying with the idea of focusing more on creating tricks than performing them.

“I’d like to develop a distinct style, so that just like with painters you can tell that they’re by a certain artist, certain magic tricks would be ‘genuine Axel Adlers,’” he says.

“I’d also like to write a book for other magicians to use. And I do enjoy creating new tricks – I just don’t always enjoy performing them.”

“The next logical step is to remove the magician, me, from the equation completely.”

There’s Axel Adler. Don’t blink.

Axel Adler (Adlercreutz)
Age: 33
Lives: In Stockholm
Career highlights: Performed in the Gala Show at F.I.S.M. (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques), the World Championships of Magic, in Busan, South Korea, in 2018. Appeared on Penn & Teller: Fool Us; Nordic Grand Prix, four Swedish magic champion- ships.

Axel Adler’s Magical World
Magic is all around you. You just have to know where to look. Here are five suggestions.

Black Rabbit Rose, Los Angeles
Magic, circus and burlesque show in a spectacular environ- ment. If you can’t get into the Magic Castle, this is a very cool alternative.
1719 N Hudson Ave, Los Angeles

Le Double Fond, Paris
A classic magic bar located in one of the most picturesque and lively parts of Paris. The waiters perform magic at your table.
1 Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, Paris

Chicago Magic Lounge
The entrance is an unmarked door to a laundromat. Or so it seems. Customers must figure out the secret that will get them into the venue’s main two-story, art deco magic bar.
5050 N Clark St, Chicago

Half Moon Magic Bar In Ginza, Tokyo
Tokyo has many bars where you can see live, mostly close- up magic, and the Half Moon is considered the best. Expensive, hard to find, and you have to book in advance – but it’s worth it.
8 Chome-7-11 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo

Tannen’s Magic Shop, New York
Located in the sixth floor of a nondescript office building in the Herald Square district, across the street from Macy’s, Tannen’s Magic has been cater- ing to the needs of professional and amateur magicians since 1925.
45 W 34th St #608, New York

Originally published in the May 2019 issue of Scandinavian Traveler

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