DEFYING THE BULLETS

Chung Ling Soo was one of the highest-paid stars of the vaudeville circuit on both sides of the Atlantic. He performed in silence, wearing long robes and his hair in a pigtail, endorsing the Victorian-Oriental view of China. A magician fools people for a living, but Chung took it further than most: stealing somebody else's act and passing himself off as something and somebody he wasn't. If he hadn't died on stage, nobody would have remembered him.

 

Death revealed Chung Ling Soo to be an American conjuror called William Ellsworth Robinson whose life was full of deceptions both on stage and off. Pretending to be Chinese gave Robinson a persona to hide behind and enabled him to perform his tricks in silence, claiming never to have mastered English.

 

DEFYING THE BULLETS was a dangerous, and some believed cursed, illusion that Chung had performed for decades: catching gun-fired bullets in his teeth and expelling them onto a china plate in his hands. But on 23 March 1918 at the Wood Green Empire in London, the bullets hit his chest. Chung Ling Soo spoke for the first and last time on stage, shouting in perfect English: "I've been shot - bring down the curtain!"

(2010) transfer-printed vintage plates: each 330 x 330 x 200 mm

CHUNG PLATE ROW LEFT ARROW