A Drawing-Room Trick

First published in English in Carnegie International 1991. Vol.1, The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh and New York [cat.exh], p. 112


The figure is cut from twelve pieces of cardboard and when complete should stand about ten inches in height. The pieces are the head, the trunk, two upper arms, two lower arms, two legs – hip to knee – two calves, and two feet. All these should be joined together in the proper places, either by threads knotted at the back and front or by wires, in such a manner that they will work freely.

The constructor, after taking a seat facing the audience, attempts ineffectually three or four times to make the figure stand upright between his feet, which are far enough apart to give it plenty of room. Each time the figure collapses and falls to the floor. The constructor then blows a whistle, and the figure rises part way up and remains a few seconds, as if listening, and then drops back again. Finally, a long blast on the whistle brings the figure up standing. The constructor only now begins to whistle a song, and the figure executes a dance keeping time to the music. When the sound ceases it stands for a few seconds and then collapses as before.

Lastly, the constructor picks up the figure and passes it to the spectators, who fail to find any «deception» about it. The secret is quite simple. A thin black silk thread passes from one of the constructor’s legs to the other at the height of the figure’s head; the figure is attached to this. As he keeps time to the music with his heels the figure is made to dance.

The length of the thread is determined by experiment, and it should have a black pin bent into a hook attached to each end. The thread should pass along the back of the calves and be fastened to the outer seam of the trousers, as this permits greater ease in walking and is less liable to «give away» the method by causing the trouser legs to vibrate during the dance. This manner of attaching the thread also makes it possible for the figure to rise part way up and then fall back, as described above. This is done by unhooking one of the pins after the figure has been attached to the thread and manipulating it by hand while the constructor bends forward to watch the figure’s movements, keeping the hand behind the calf of the leg to mask its movements.

The method of attaching the figure to the thread is by cutting little slits in the cardboard at the sides of the head and bending them backwards, thus forming little hooks which at the proper time engage the thread.