The design was subject to all the constraints of temporary fair construction, within which the goal was ultimately to create a sense of deep time and permanence. Typically, temporary fairs are installed in less than a week, remain in place for as long, and are then taken down and removed. All installations, almost without exception, remain on a single level. This is also true of Masterpiece Fair.
The design began with the overlaying of the plan of Tutankhamun’s tomb onto the site itself, which is a 14m x 15m rectangle. This became the main organising principle, where the exhibition embeds the plan of the tomb within a larger labyrinth that traces how ancient Egypt has captured the public imagination for over five hundred years, from the Renaissance to the Romantics, through colonial discovery and scientific excavation to the future and virtual or augmented experience. This journey into the centre became a space to unravel the historic fascination with all things Egyptian, but also to explore how destructive that attention has been.
The design intention was not to mimic the ancient tomb, carved into rock, instead, it was to create an inversion. Rather than descending into the tomb, visitors are taken up a ramp that rises nearly a metre in order to experience the identical scale, proportions and relationships to each other of Tutankhamun’s Antechamber, Burial Chamber and Annex. These contain and explore recordings made at different times in the 20th and 21st centuries and demonstrate how the technological approach developed by Factum Foundation over the past 20 years can protect and help preserve these extraordinary, enigmatic tombs.
For the façade of Avoiding Oblivion, the trompe l’oeil openings in Piranesi’s Caffè degli Inglesi design have been cut away to become real windows. Set back behind this, to create a complex layering of Piranesi’s work, is a screen on which an animated ‘fly-through’ of his prison fantasies, made by Grégoire Dupond and Factum Arte, plays on a long loop. These architectural mazes of the mind are an invitation to travel introspectively through space and time.
Looking back at Egyptomania through the ages we see very different behaviours and attitudes. Displays include ‘Cannibalism in Europe in the 19th century’ illustrating the way Egyptian mummies were bought, sold and eaten, to ‘Squeezed to Death’, ‘Tomb Raiders’ and ‘Hacked Out and Sawn Off’ that detail the destruction of the tombs by antiquarians and tourists alike. A facsimile of The Celestial Cow, otherwise known as The Myth of the Destruction of the Human Race, marks a turning point in the exhibition and signals the start of a different approach to looking, recording and preserving at this critical time in our collective history. It also leads us to question what we – individually and collectively – are doing during our lives, and how we ourselves will be perceived and remembered after we are gone.
ANTECHAMBER AND BURIAL CHAMBER
The space of the antechamber and the sarcophagus room form the centrepiece of the exhibition. They are of the identical size and proportion of the original tomb of Tutankhamun, but the burial chamber is a pure, white volume, devoid of decoration or colour. In this space visitors are invited to experience the highest recorded digital data of the tomb through Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. Whatever they see is projected onto the screen, making it possible to literally ‘see through the eyes of others’.
ANNEX AND VIEWING ROOM
The Annex is an informal meeting space for visitors to pause, read and talk. One wall displays the tomb of Tutankhamun ‘unfolded’, with a colour coded system that details cracks, injection holes, accidental damage, repainted areas and the space where the wall has been removed. On another is the large missing fragment taken from the south wall when Carter opened the tomb. There is also a collection of images made for display in the facsimile of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.