Fear Your Dreams, For They Could Become Real

25 October, 2019
Hayk Mikaelyan is the 2018 recipient of the My Step Foundation scholarship. He currently studies in the Interactive Telecommunications Department at Tisch School of Arts at New York University. Hayk is a programmer and a magician.

Technology and Magic

I am a programmer by profession. I graduated from the State Engineering University of Armenia. Since childhood, I was fascinated by the world of magic, but it was more of a hobby that I could practice with friends and family and uncover this magical world of wonder. Although the world has now changed and magic and technology have fused together, you could count on one hand the number of magicians who have entered the field of technology or programmers who have dabbled in the world of magic. The fact that I could combine both worlds was unfathomable to me.

It all began three years ago when I was working for the Luys Foundation in Armenia. The Executive Director of the foundation knew about my love for magic, and proposed I attend the Medialab opening at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts. I decided to go for a few days just as a tourist. I had heard that technology could be integrated in different fields, like music for example, but I did not think that it could be fused with magic. After spending a short amount of time at the University of Massachusetts, I began to look at everything from a different perspective and realized that a lot of people were interested in that, myself included.

Magic and programming appear to have completely different lifestyles, which is probably why I had the idea to combine my two interests and make it into one career. I searched for similar educational programs in Armenia, but unfortunately did not find any that combined magic and digital technology into one platform. In the United States, it’s actually quite popular and they have many festivals in different cities showcasing it. I realized that the United States would have the best opportunities for me to continue in this field, particularly in New York. It focuses on art and technology and allows you to keep that your main focal point, which is why I ultimately decided to further my education at New York University. The program they offered was more experimental, which is exactly what I was looking for.

It’s been one year since I began at NYU studying Interactive Telecommunications, which has been offered at one of the largest art schools in the world, the Tisch School of Arts, for about 40 years now. Our main purpose is to explore the application of technology from different angles. Through these experimental programs, we try to learn the application of technology in various fields of art. I, myself, am exploring the connection between technology and magic. It’s a two-year Master’s program, and I have one more year left to finish.

The Charm of Magic

I have always found it fascinating that for hundreds of years, magicians have been doing tricks that seem possible only through advanced technology. They have shown tricks that include what appears to be wireless telecommunications and robots. For example, the famous chess playing robot was first shown as a stunt. Of course, it was man-made, but it was presented to the public as a magic trick. For many years, no one could understand how a chess playing robot is playing chess himself. So, turns out magicians are innovators!

These magicians would imagine where the time and future was headed. They achieved what was once impossible with the technology at the time and did so with magic. They were great innovators. Today, we know that wireless communication and artificial intelligence in chess are a reality. In other words, what the magicians had done as magic tricks at the time have now become the reality. I perceive magicians to be the people of tomorrow’s new technology with new applications, new skills and the creators of tomorrow’s new ideas. I look at my profession from that perspective.

When My Uncle Gifted a Book…

I was born and raised in Gyumri, and attended #10 school until our family moved to Yerevan. I was a teenager then, and my love for magic blossomed when I was in Yerevan but I believe my creativity stems from my birthplace, Gyumri. I can’t ignore that.

I started practicing magic when I was thirteen years old. My uncle had given me a book from the Soviet era about magic and experienced magicians, and I read and studied it enthusiastically.

My first audience was, of course, my family. Then my schoolmates, friends and relatives. I performed with great love. There is nothing a beginner magician needs more than an audience. The tricks that I would perform may not have been very shocking, but people around me were always amazed, excited and supportive, which motivated me to continue pursuing it. There are many people in the world who did tricks as hobbies, such as Woody Allen, Prince Charles, among others. For me, magic began as a hobby then became my profession. It’s important to do what you love. I have been the most myself while doing magic. Vardan Amiryan, the founder of the Armenian Magicians Union, has helped me quite a lot in this journey. Today, he is the president of the Union and I am the vice-president.

Being Amazed and Amaze Others

It’s true when people talk about being in love with the work they do. It shouldn’t have to be an obligation, but a love. To this day, I continue to be amazed and in awe by the performances of other magicians. Everything depends on the individual. There are people who think that magicians are liars and are not impressed by anything. What I love most is the element of surprise, but it’s unfortunately harder to spark it in audiences now. You can try to achieve it most through art, technology and magic. The ability to amaze and surprise audiences is so important in magic, though it is also crucial to create a process of relationship building and communication with people. I can say that I am a perfectionist and pay a lot of attention to detail. Magic is an industry where there are many details. When I study something new, I focus on the details and realize something new every single time. You can discover a new detail and understand something completely new and have a whole new experience that you can then pass on to your audiences.

Oftentimes when I would perform for children in Armenia, on the way home afterwards I would wonder and deliberate ways that I could have inspired more awe in the kids. After every single performance, I would think for a while about what I had done wrong, why a certain trick did or didn’t work, why it may have worked last time but not now. In reality, technology plays a huge role here. During one of my performances, all of the kids had iPads in their hands. In that case, it’s harder to capture and hold their attention because the most important thing with that line of work is to connect with your audiences, mainly the children. It’s a pretty big challenge. One solution could be to use the iPad yourself because the kids are already interested in it, but you have to be extremely innovative and creative so the performance becomes less about the tool itself and more about inspiring awe and imagination.

People always strive to know more, to question things more. That is the driving force of this type of profession, I think. Let me give you an example of the connection between technology and magic. When I first came to New York three years ago, I saw one of the most famous magicians, Marco Tempest. He has been involved with in the field of technology and magic for a long time now, and at his show, I watched him perform a trick that had not been done before but is now probably on Youtube somewhere. It was a deceitful, storytelling trick, with drones flying around him. If we were to look at the technique and analyze it, it’s just a flying drone. Of course, we know how drones fly, but the trick has a whole new meaning in the context of magic because our imagination is much stronger than our reasoning or logic. That’s why I viewed that performance as a powerful magic trick, forgetting for a moment that the drones were actually programmed.

That proves that what you may know logically in the moment wouldn’t matter and the logical conclusions and relationships are irrelevant because your imagination is more powerful than logic. No matter how hard it may be to perform for children, magic is for people of all ages. In Armenia, it is still stereotypically a children’s entertainment. The Armenian Magician’s Union has implemented various projects throughout Armenia to have magic taken more seriously as an art form. We started a project at the Goy Theatre called The Illusionists, which has been running for a year now in the theatre. I think it can be said that The Illusionists was the first Armenian show that brought together magicians and led them to the theatre, giving it a more classical art approach. We aimed to break those stereotypes and make people see that magic is a form of art, if not one of the branches of art.

About Education and Being Educated

At my art school, you can choose your course schedule yourself. For the first year, I had chosen to keep myself busy seven days a week. I would spend 10 hours a day at my university.

During this time, I would always think about Armenia’s education system and what is lacking or needs improvement. I would compare it to the education systems elsewhere and think about what could be done to improve the quality of Armenia’s education, because I’d love for Armenia to have the same level of education and the system that exists in the United States. People wouldn’t have to move from country to country for high quality education.

Some major gaps that I’ve noticed in Armenia’s education system compared to America’s is the impracticality of learning. No matter how much you study the theoretical aspects, you need to be able to apply it in the real world. Do you have that opportunity or not? In the American education system, this is their main focus. All of the programs are designed so that you not only listen to the lecture, but you’re also able to apply it in your work and learn constantly. Your courses are projects that you work on from beginning to end, and then have them in your portfolio because you have that experience in the real world.

The second major difference is the young staff. The lecturers in America are young, vibrant and up to date with the latest innovations and advancements in their fields. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Armenia. In America, every lesson can be changed depending on the latest industry updates. For example, I’m studying machine learning which is one of the most evolving fields right now. Since the beginning of the semester, the course has already changed several times due to all of the current developments. That is, knowledge is never stagnant. The lecturers are all professionals in their field; they teach but they also have their main jobs which could be, for example, a founder of a well-known company or a leading company employee.

The third important factor is networking. Specifically, what type of contacts you make during your studies and what type of professionals you interact with. This is also dependent on the quality of your education and future opportunities. It seems to me that the lecturers in Armenia and how they teach should be changed. I have noticed a positive trend lately in lecturers also being professionals. For example, people in the programming field are also teachers. It’s a great advancement, but I think we must reach a point where this becomes the regular.

Of course, according to the scholarship program, I do have the obligation to return to Armenia. But I also have the desire to. I envision my future in my homeland. I very much want to develop the model of the program I’m studying in America and bring it to Armenia. Recently, the Armenian Symphony Orchestra played music created by artificial intelligence. The combination of art and technology in Armenia is already quite noticeable. I want to work more in that direction and share what I have learned in America. This model has been introduced by my university in several countries and has had great success. I already have preliminary arrangements with the project managers and know that there are programs that are working with centers in Armenia such as the Tumo Center. This is a very interesting environment for young students but there are a lot of gaps I’d like to fill, one of which would be done by bringing this model to Armenia.

It’s quite difficult to get an education abroad, especially in the United States and especially in New York because it is one of the most expensive cities to live in. When I planned on attending school here, I set up an online fundraiser and shared it among my friends and relatives and they helped as much as they could, for which I am extremely grateful. I received support from the Luys Foundation and a scholarship from New York University. By doing so, I was able to cover the expenses of the first semester, after which I worked hard and made great progress the following semester by being actively involved in different programs and organizations. I then received a full scholarship from the university, which is fairly uncommon. For the second year, I received support from My Step Foundation. I think this program is extremely important, and hopefully My Step’s scholarship program will gradually provide more and more opportunities to help even more students. I am very grateful for their support because without it, many of us would not be able to reach our educational goals. Even though I only had 10% of my school tuition when I departed from Armenia, and though I worked hard all this time, I still had a strong desire to achieve my dream. As they say, be afraid of your dreams, for they can become real. I left Armenia to come to the US when Armenia was at its turning point. In fact, I still keep up with the news and updates about what is happening in our country. I, of course, get frustrated too but, in my opinion, each of us must understand what we can give the country. I link the development of Armenia with the development of technologies. I recently read that at the WCIT 2019 IT World Forum in Yerevan, Armenia was presented as the former Soviet Union’s Silicon Valley, which is very realistic and accurately depicts the future that I see for Armenia.

25 October, 2019

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date piker 24 March, 2022