Rich find in gold city
A 20-year worldwide hunt for a rare magic lantern has ended in a Ballarat antique shop. "I was shocked because I had been looking for so long," German collector and filmmaker Werner Nekes says of the rare mid-1800s image-projecting magic lantern by Andreas Kruess.
"I walked in and among all the porcelain and kitschy things, there it was standing.”
"It's quite a sensation. This is the only one I have ever seen. This lantern had disappeared ... it was one of the best lanterns of the time because of the optics.”
"It was standing in the shop for five years, waiting for me, that I kiss it."
The thick-lensed heavy wooden lantern, a forerunner of the cinema projector, now sits among 500 pieces from the Werner Nekes Collection at the Eyes, Lies and Illusions exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).
The lantern will join Nekes' collection of 25,000 objects housed in an old leather factory where he lives in Germany. Next year it will travel to an exhibition in Rotterdam, then Seoul the year after, and possibly Mexico City.
Nekes, who values the lantern at about $20,000, picked it up for an amazing $300.
"I think he was glad to get rid of it," Nekes says. "It was rubbish for them. The roof is missing and the light is naturally missing but still it has the sign A. Kruess, Hamburg.
"It is quite possible that it was the beginning of projecting movement on a screen in Australia. I guess that, because Ballarat at that time was quite a rich city, finding gold, so they gave some gold to Hamburg to get this lantern, to get visual entertainment."
Nekes, who started collecting in the 1970s when he was teaching at Hamburg University, has simultaneous exhibitions of his vast collection in Monaco, Indiana, Belgium and Germany.
The ACMI exhibition covers 400 years of optical illusions in objects, books and art. It has riddles of perspective, mind-deceiving visuals, tricks of light and interactive works that include 12 contemporary artists.
One drawing of Jesus Christ, for example, is created with just one hand-drawn spiralling line that thickens and thins to form his face.
Even everyday walking sticks contain subversive messages when audiences view the shadows that they cast.
Nekes, an expert in pre-cinematic history, hopes to stumble on more gems when in Australia.
"Images are no longer made mechanically, or with film chemistry. Now everything is going to the computer. Lots of the knowledge is getting lost. I want to save the worldwide experiences for our future generations."