“What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible.”
– Theodore Roethke
Stuart Nolan is an artist, performer and creative technologist who combines traditional disciplines of deception with innovative and questionable technology. His recent work uses public workshops that explore the science of mindreading to create collaborative performances. His gallery show, Season of Sleeps, premiered at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Stuart is currently writing The Trick: How Magicians Invented Invention, a history of theatrical magic and technology innovation, and co-writing The Magical: 100 Principles of Design, a book for all creators concerned with the magical, the impossible, the mysterious, the illusory, and the deceptive.
Stuart has traveled the world exploring and performing the impossible.
His performances combine traditional disciplines of deception – conjuring, psychological illusion, memory feats, hypnosis, sideshow tradition – with bespoke technology and original investigations into how we are deceived by language, physical gesture, and technology. He once deceived over 700 organisations just to prove a point.
His friendly Mindreading Robot Birds – IdeoBird and OuijaBird developed as Magician in Residence at Pervasive Media Studio and The University of Bristol, were featured in the BBC Click Christmas Special, The Guardian, and US Wired’s Connectivity 2.0. To date, IdeoBird has performed in six cities in Europe, including Helsinki where she located an object hidden in the city during Vappu Festival. The IdeoBird project has stimulated further ongoing research into the potential of Resonant Interfaces at The University of Bristol.
In 2015, Stuart was a Magician in Residence at Queen Mary University of London developing fortune telling robotics.
In 2016, as part of the Being There: Humans and Robots in Public Spaces project, Stuart created Parry, an Artificial Intelligence that believes in magic and can tell the fortunes of a whole audience. With the Institute of Unknown Purpose, he is designing Teller, a blockchain-based fortune-telling cryptocurrency.
Stuart has created tailor-made performances for many settings, from the secretive Food+Awe salon, gathering in the private room of an exclusive London club, to the stage of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. From the conference rooms of Manchester’s cool and frosted Urbis to London’s dignified and commodious Conway Hall. From the minuscule magic bars of Tokyo to the vertiginous top floor of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers and London’s spacious Queen Elizabeth Hall.
He recently performed the world’s first simultaneous impossibility for two separate audiences in Bristol and Manchester, an event that was live streamed to 1400 screens in 46 countries.
Stuart’s gallery show, Season of Sleeps, premiered in the Swiss Consulate at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
– The Trick. 2016. Commissioned workshop and collaborative performance for The University of Huddersfield.
– Playing with Novels, Magic, and Comedy. 2017. Commissioned performance with Nick Hornby, Robin Ince, and Greig Stewart for Cambridge e-Luminate Festival.
– Fake Magic. 2017. Commissioned performance for Club Big/No Boundaries Conference.
– The Trick. 2016. Commissioned performance for Tabula Mentis, the Conference of the British Society of Mystery Entertainers.
– Parry: The A.I. Who Believes in Magic. 2016. Performance for the Being-There: Humans and Robots in Public Spaces Showcase.
– The Other Half/SpinCycle. 2016. Performance for the No Boundaries Conference. The performance was staged simultaneously in two separate venues, in Bristol and Manchester, and was live-streamed to 1400 screen in 46 different countries.
– Slumber With a Key. 2015. Gallery performance at the Swiss Consulate Venice and Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth, at part of the Boîte-en-Valise programme at the Venice Biennale.
– Daemons and English Magic. 2015. Commissioned performance for Jeremy Deller’s English Magic exhibition at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
– The Strangest Thing. 2015. Commissioned performance for The Winter Droving. Eden Arts.
– Wobbly Arms and Mind Reading Birds. 2014. Commissioned performance for the Twice Upon a Time Conference.
– Sea Legs and Wobbly Arms. 2014. Commissioned performance for RAFT, a day of inspiration on a boat.
– Not My Dad’s Best Trick: 2014. Commissioned performance for TEDxLancasterU.
– OuijaBird: 2014. Commissioned performance for Bees in a Tin.
– Fox & Hen: 2014. Commissioned performance for Creative Mornings.
– Deception Expert. 2014. Commissioned performance for the Magic Research Group, University of Huddersfield.
– You’re All A Bunch Of Liars: 2014. Commissioned performance at the University of Salford.
– Impossibilities: 2014 Commissioned performance/workshop at the University of Lincoln.
– Dali With a Key: 2014. Commissioned performance at VaudeVille.
– Bag of Tricks: 2014. Commissioned performance of several short story/conjuring pieces based on Trickster stories for Translating Tales of the Trickster.
– The Bird in the Bottle: 2013. NESTA FutureFest.
– Ketchak: 2012. Commissioned performances for The Great Boxing Booth Revival Tour by Arts & Heritage. Twenty performances, in twelve venues, in a boxing ring that toured the fairs and county shows of the North.
– The Strange Thing: 2012. Commissioned performances for The Great Boxing Booth Revival Tour by Arts & Heritage. I also gave twenty performances, in seven venues, of a combination of spoken word and sideshow exhibit.
– Balloon Animals II: 2012. Commissioned performance at Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival.
– Inferno & Balloon Animals: 2012. Three commissioned performances at Spotlight, Lancaster.
– The Object Hell: 2012. Commissioned performance at Mondo Marveloso, Manchester.
– Beautiful Monsters and The Men Who Know: 2012. Performance inspired by the life of the early 20th Century performer Claude Alexander Conlin. This show premiered at The Sir Patrick Stewart Building, Huddersfield and toured six further venues in Europe.
– Depth of Character: Commissioned performance for The Story 2010 in London’s Conway Hall.
– Human Computing Theatre: 2009. Created as part of a residency at Interactivos! Lima 09: Magic and Technology to research “wetware-computing and performance”. This show has since been performed at 12 venues in Europe including Venice, Helsinki, Marseilles, and Madrid.
Stuart first performed in 1982 at venues around London, including one of the earliest Apples and Snakes events and as a support act for Hawkwind at Hampstead Town Hall. He published in a number of publications including Poetry Wales and the Encyclopaedia Psychedelica, where he was also a guest editor of a poetry issue despite being not, even in the slightest way, a hippy.
In late 1983, Stuart became a member of the Falmouth Poetry Society and a co-founder of the first Falmouth Poetry Festival. He began combining poetry and magic by hammering a 6-inch nail up his nose while performing Inferno, a poem about a Hell for inanimate objects, an act he still performs occasionally
In 1987, while studying for a degree in Cell Biology at The University of Manchester, Stuart became a founding member of The Live Poet’s Society, a group whose motto was, ‘poetry so good you can actually understand it’, and included Steve Coogan, Dave Gorman, Lucy Porter, Lemm Sissay, and Henry Normal. For four years the group performed in many venues throughout the north of England and published an anthology of their work.
Stuart Nolan was awarded a NESTA Fellowship in 2002, which provided £75,000 for his research into magic and innovation. This research involved practical projects with a wide range of experts including artists, scientists, technologists, game designers, sports coaches, architects, psychologists and, of course, magicians of every type.
Stuart has studied card and coin magic with Amando Lucero, sleight-of hand with Juan Tamariz, coin magic with Al Schneider, hypnosis with Anthony Jacquin, cold reading with Ian Rowland, psychological entertainment and memory training with Banachek, abstract vaudeville with Rose English, and street performance at the School of Busking. He has explored the deeper meanings of magic with Eugene Burger and Jeff McBride of the Las Vegas Mystery School and even studied marketing and promotion with Paul Daniels.
In 2010, Stuart created Food+Awe, a combination of poetry, story, magic, and the sharing of genuinely awesome things over a meal. This was originally created for a BBC R&D networking event but has since been run successfully at events for Channel 4 London, The Culture Company Leeds, The White Room Manchester, and Vision + Media, Manchester.
In the summer of 2012, Stuart spent every weekend performing in a traveling Victorian Boxing Booth throughout the fairs and country shows of the North of England, also exhibiting The Strange Thing as a sideshow.
Technology Industry Background
“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”
– Arthur C. Clarke
In 1993, Stuart was working as a research scientist in Cancer Genetics in the daytime and performing as a magician in the evenings and weekends. Then he read an article by Bruce Tognazzini, one of Apple’s early computer interface designers, and it changed his life. Tognazzini argued that “Perhaps no field other than magic is tied so closely to the field of graphical interface design”, and suggested that designers should study the books and performance of great magicians and crucially, they should learn to perform some magic. Stuart took him seriously for the next twenty-four years (to date) and learned that magic is at the heart of all design and innovation.
Between 1993 and 2002 Stuart was a producer and strategist for Interactive TV (including the first children’s Interactive TV shows in Europe), Web, mobile devices, games platforms, and museum displays. He has twice been a judge on both the BAFTA Interactive Awards and the Big Chip Awards.
In 2002 he was awarded a NESTA Fellowship in order to bring his impossible consultancy to a broad range of industries in science, technology, and art.
Stuart has been an assessor for Innovate UK since 2013 and also advises on innovation and technology projects to a range of government and commercial organisations, most recently on investment in Quantified Self, Internet of Things, and Big Data in Healthcare, Urban Spaces, Sustainability, Retail, and UX.
Stuart uses our beliefs about the impossible to create innovative techniques for innovation consulting, training and facilitation.
His IMPOSSIBLE INNOVATION techniques have been used by, amongst others, architects in Manchester, digital artists in Lima, film producers in Paris, robotics engineers in London, newspaper journalists in Sofia, museum directors in Norwich, Internet entrepreneurs in Kuala Lumpur, video editors in Helsinki, game designers in Dundee, play researchers in Alicante, App developers in Manchester, scriptwriters in Amsterdam, actors in Madrid, futurologists in Brussels, organisational psychologists in Pennsylvania, educationalists in Wales, rugby players in Yorkshire, puppeteers in London, storytellers in Bristol, trade mission delegates in Sophia Antipolis, sport coaches in Loughborough, network security experts in London, broadcasters in New York, and teenage inventors at the BBC.
Stuart has been a trained LEGO Serious Play facilitator since 2004. This is a metaphorical storymaking process that he has used as an ideation, business strategy development, and innovation tool with over 2000 people including scientists, technologists, actors, BBC writers, and children inventors appearing on the CBBC TV show Whiz Whiz Bang Bang.
Stuart has been a consultant to the following organisations:
BBC Training & Development, BBC Creative R&D, Channel 4, Granada Studios, Sky TV, Orange, Motorola, BT, The V&A Museum, The National Endowment for Science, Technology and Art (NESTA), Institute of Economic Affairs, Take2Games, The University of East London, The Finnish National Broadcaster YLE, MediaLab Prado, Cornerhouse Manchester, The Knowledge Transfer Network, REACT, Ufixed, Rural media, Vision+Media, The DTI New Media Trade Mission to Malaysia, The DTI Broadband Trade Mission to France, The British Embassy in Bulgaria, Tate Modern, Creative Arts Projects in Education (CAPE), Coney Theatre Company, The Royal Shakespeare Company, New Media Partners, London College of Fashion, The European Commission, The English Screen Commission, The Irish Screen Commission, Malaysia New Media Consortium, The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), The University of the First Age, Innovation in Digital and Electronic Arts (IDEA), TAC (Welsh Independent Media Producers), CSV Media, The University of Central Lancashire, The Training and Enterprise Council, Creative Stockport, University for Industry, The Higher Education Academy, New Media Knowledge, Institute of Ideas, Manchester Digital, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT), SAGAS Future TV, Association of International Broadcasters, Hurd Rolland Architects, NESTA Ignite, Arts & Heritage, The Culture Company, Meeting of Minds Think Tank – Antwerp, Dare to be Digital Game Design Competition, MadLab, The White Room, Manchester, Carphone Warehouse, G8Way Project, Pool Arts Manchester, Centre for Alternative Technology.
Stuart has held a number of academic positions including Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University (2007-2008), Senior Lecturer in Digital Media Design at The University of Huddersfield (2002- 2009), and Curriculum Developer for the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP) (2002-2006).
He has taught on Digital Design, Game Design, Media, and Film & TV courses. He has also taught Magic and Interactive Performance Design at Central School of Speech and Drama (2007 & 2008).
He has been a Visiting Lecturer at the following institutions:
Bournemouth University, Plymouth University, The University of Dundee, The University of Hull, Thames Valley University, London College of Fashion, The University of Salford, Lancaster University, Central School Of Speech and Drama, The University of the West of England, The University of Portsmouth, The University of Greenwich, Liverpool Screen School, Edinburgh School of Art, The University of Westminster, Queen Mary University of London, The University of Sussex, Central Saint Martins, The International Centre for Digital Content, Helsinki University of Technology, Aalto University, The Royal College of Art, Central Saint Martins, Università degli Studi di Milano, l’Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), The Bulgarian National Academy of Arts, Liverpool John Moores University, The Architectural Association, Norwich University of the Arts, Lancaster University.
Stuart is co-founder and co-editor of The Journal of Performance Magic.
Bennett, P.; Nolan, S.; Uttamchandani, V.; Pages, M.; Cater, K. & Fraser, M. “Resonant Bits: Harmonic Interaction with Virtual Pendulums” Proc. of TEI, 2015 [ACM]
Bennett, P.; Cater, K.; Nolan, S.; Knibbe, J. & Fraser, M. “Tangible Gestural Interaction with Resonant Bits” Proc. of Workshop on Tangible Gesture Interaction, TEI, 2015
Nolan, S & Taylor, N. Performing Fabulous Monsters: Re-Inventing the Gothic Personae In Bizarre Magic. Presented at The Ninth Biannual Conference of the International Gothic Association, 21-24 July 2009, Lancaster University. (2015)
Nolan, S (2009) Physical Metaphorical Modelling with LEGO as a Technology for Collaborative Personalised Learning. In: O’Donoghue, J, ed. Technology- supported Environments for Personalized Learning: Methods and Case Studies. (Premier Reference Source).
Nolan, S (2007). Citizen Players vs. Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy. In: Kolgen, S. & Laenen, ed. The User is the Content.
Nolan, S (2006) Building Magical Realms: Responses to Pervasive and Locative Technology. Digital Creativity, Volume 17, No 3, pp, 185 – 192
Nolan, S. (2003) Box Clever: The Intelligence of Television. AI & Society. Volume 17, Number 1 / May, 2003. Springer. London
Nolan, S & Curson, I. (2001) The Betrayal of Interactive TV. UsableiTV. Vol 1. Interactive TV Design Network.
Nolan, S. (2001) Interactive TV: Disparate Visions of a Virtual Learning Technology. Proceedings of the International Broadcast Symposium 2001.
Nolan, S. (2001) Pressure and Personalization: Issues of Augmented Reality. Museum Directors Association Journal 2001.
Nolan, S (2000). Interactive TV: Planned Educational Uses VS Real Educational Needs. Proceedings of the EuroPrix99 Conference. Content in European Multimedia.