The British Museum Text
My uncle once took me to visit the British Museum as a child. According to family legend, I ran around ecstatically among the mummies and sarcophagi, as if possessed. I don't remember the event myself, but I still have a sarcophagus-shaped pencil case that I must have stolen from the gift shop.
“The British Museum” features forty figurines made of cement and plaster in the shape of the sarcophagus pencil case. Produced out of the same mold, each figurine is nonetheless distinct. Over the course of forty days, I engaged in the daily ritual of painting and decorating a new mini sarcophagus, using sand and decorative stones in addition to graphite, pigments, oil paint, varnish and pencil scribbling. Each figurine sits in a plastic brochure-holder wrapped in layers of plaster and decorated with a cement madeleine, recalling the cookie that triggered the sudden recollection of a childhood memory in Marcel Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time. The sculpture in its entirety is made to look aged and worn out.
Exhibited on eye-level, one step apart from one another, the forty figurines invite the viewer to engage in a kind of ritual, pausing at each sculpture while circling the space. Individual illumination of the pieces creates an intimacy between viewer and sarcophagus. Like an altar at the heart of a temple, a motorized lazy susan stands at the center of the space, its movement suggesting to the visitor a direction and pace for his own movement around the exhibition.
The number forty had special significance in Ancient Egyptian culture, where the soul was thought to linger by the body for forty days after death. Indeed the number seems to represent waiting also in other cultures, perhaps due to the forty weeks of pregnancy.
The molded figurines are instantly recognized as replicas of the Ancient Egyptian caskets, which have gained worldwide fame through their exhibition in the British Museum, and which still fascinate me today like they did when I was little. Yet in miniature form and mass-produced, my doll-like sarcophagi can also be seen as representations of consumer culture, colonial plundering, and commodification of the sacred.