Thomas Webb is the artist who wants to reshape the internet
Moving beyond card tricks, Webb began mixing his two passions: technology and magic. He invented cruel tricks that encouraged audiences to question their relationship with social media, big tech and data protection. Most notably, under the alias Tom London, he impressed the judges with a trick America has talent in 2017 (the clip has over six million views on YouTube). Then, two years later, he did the one thing a magician shouldn’t: he told everyone how he did it. “I thought it was more fascinating to tell the audience and say, ‘If I could trick you with a calculator in my living room, what could these tech companies do?'” he explains.
He was kicked out of the Magic Circle, but didn’t leave everything behind. In Jungian analytical psychology, the “magician” is one of the Swiss psychoanalyst’s 12 known archetypes. Described as knowers and creators of worlds, the magician is synonymous with science, technology and wisdom. The magician-to-technologist pipeline is a well-trodden trope. The founder of modern magic, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, for example, was known to use electromagnetism in his magic tricks (before the light bulb was even invented), and more recently Facebook whistleblower Christopher Wylie moonlighted as a magician while working at the platform. “One of the main purposes of a magician is to deceive, so of course Chris wanted to see all the ways that the platform was deceiving its users en masse in ways others couldn’t,” says Webb.
As we exit the restaurant, all the employees (with whom Webb is on a first-name basis) stop him for the latest gossip, from the recent crypto crash to his trip to the Paris Ethereum conference. “I come here at least twice a week,” he explains. He leads a global team of 40 people who help him build his game at hyper speed. His outrageous screen time means he doesn’t leave the compound much.
We head back to Webb’s penthouse in the residential quarters of the hotel. It looks like the new Balenciaga flagship store on Bond Street – down to both the brutalist, concrete interior design and the endless Balenciaga runway pieces in the walk-in wardrobe. Tonight he’s wearing a Rick Owens black T-shirt with Balenciaga leather pants and studded Crocs platform. It’s not exactly what you’d expect from a video game developer.
Considering his aesthetic, his influence comes from an unlikely source. “I was really inspired by the Ozwald Boateng documentary. He wanted to wear these emerald green suits that were incredibly bold and made such an impact on Savile Row, he says, turning on the digital infinity mirror in the great room. It’s an installation he’s become famous for – he was commissioned by Warner Records to make one for his friend Dua Lipa to celebrate her album The nostalgia of the future went platinum last year. “As a magician I had to perform at billionaires’ yacht parties where I had to immediately command a room full of powerful people. The easiest way to do that was to wear a great suit, he continues. For him, there’s only one place for the best silhouette, cut and material: “Balenciaga kills it in that regard,” he adds.
The entire living room is lined with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that look out onto London’s limitless skyline. “I think life is more programmed than a game,” Webb says, looking out at the thousands of flashing lights below us. They look almost simulated. “We go to school, we get a job, we get married, maybe we have a child,” he continues. “In my virtual worlds, I want people to be or create whatever they want.”
Photographs of Thomas Alexander
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