Constable: The trick of turning philosophy, physics and art into magic

As Wheaton native Jeanette Andrews gives her takes on Plato, theater, French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex," quantum physics, her installations at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sopolsky's book about free will, her artist's residency at The Institute for Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles, the martial arts classes she taught with her mom or her friendship with prizewinning Fermilab physicist Luciano Ristori, you struggle to figure her out.

And then, ta-da! The 28-year-old pulls away the curtain to reveal her true identity.

"I'm a magician," says Andrews, who has been saying that since she was a 4-year-old making plastic balls vanish before the eyes of astonished preschool classmates. "And I am an artist. I very much use magic as my medium in the same way a sculptor uses clay and marble."

Her days of "now you see it, now you don't" have evolved into a career as a performing artist and "sensory illusionist" who still seems to bend glass or bring a flower back to life but uses "art-based interactive sensory magic" to illustrate "a contemplative take on the art of the impossible."

The Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned her to create her performance called "Invisible Roses" in honor of its 50th anniversary last year. Her performances engage audiences in ideas about certainty and being hidden in plain sight, and, well, I don't know the best words to describe what she does.

"I'm glad you can't describe it. That makes me happy," Andrews says.

Even my description of the first trick she learned in preschool as the old "ball and vase" gimmick doesn't do it justice. "Historically, it's called the Morrison Pill Box," says Andrews, who has read enough books to become an expert in the history of magic.

Her start came in 1994, when her parents, Mike and Caryn Andrews, let her watch "Siegfried & Roy. the Magic. the Mystery." TV special. "My mom somehow sensed something special," Andrews says. "She made it an event."

By January 1995, Andrews was on her way to making magic her career, performing 15 minutes of tricks for fellow preschoolers on a sequined tablecloth made by her grandma, Gail Clarke. In response to her fan letter, Siegfried & Roy invited her to their show in Las Vegas. At age 6, Andrews became a professional, performing at the Butterfield Park District for preschoolers.

"They offered me 10 bucks," remembers Andrews, who immediately told her parents that she still couldn't afford the $30 magic book she wanted.

"OK. Cool. Figure out how to do two more shows," her mom told her.

"That's how it has been the entire rest of my life," Andrews says, explaining how she went from performing at Warrenville Depot Days to winning prestigious grants, earning residencies as an artist, performing at galleries and museums, and still doing corporate and private shows.

Andrews will be part of "The Signature Show," featuring "Women in Magic," running Thursday through Saturday at the Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N. Clark St. in Chicago. She will give her "In Progress" artist talk/presentation at 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

A 2008 graduate of Wheaton North High School, Andrews says she had a couple of close friends during those years but spent most of her time practicing magic or buried in philosophy books. She studied graphic design and business during her two years at the College of DuPage, but she's never had a paying job outside her magic career.

"Maybe that's my best trick," she says.

"I'm creating things that are very contemplative," she adds. "What I do invites that and makes other people feel important. It's all an evolution to this day."

Her friendship with Ristori, a winner of the 2009 W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics, began when the physicist saw a magic show years ago in which Andrews was the youngest performer.

"I was telling her about science, and she was telling me about magic," remembers Ristori, who says his interest in magic comes naturally.

"There is quite a lot in common between science and magic. In the ancient times, magic was science," Ristori says. "Magic tries to create that sense of awe. You're watching something you don't understand. Scientists are fascinated by things we do not understand. I see a magic act and I don't understand how it works, and then I'm hooked."

The force of her coffee cup pushing down and the force of the table countering that fascinates Andrews. "I think our everyday experiences are incredible," she says. Our brains take shortcuts in an attempt to have it all make sense, she says.

"That, interestingly, is the thing magic relies on, too," Andrews says. "I love watching magic. That's my soul. That's who I am."

Performing her first magic show in 1995, 4-year-old magician Jeanette Andrews of Wheaton dazzled her preschool classmates. Now 28, Andrews' “magic” shows revolve around physics, philosophy and sensory illusions. Courtesy of Jeanette Andrews
By the time of her first paid gig in 1996 at age 6, magician Jeanette Andrews of Wheaton was not only making her stuffed tiger disappear, but she was making it turn white to match the tigers of her inspiration, Sigfried & Roy. Courtesy of Jeanette Andrews
“It's not about me,” explains Wheaton native Jeanette Andrews, as she engages her audience in a performance that blends magic and sensory illusions. Courtesy of Michael Sullivan
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