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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Magic Assemblage: Magic Assembly

By Edmund Connolly, on 8 September 2014

By freelance journalist Rammy Elsaadany


The premise of the exhibition was that a group of fresh and energetic Central Saint Martin students would create a piece that was to be an interpretation of each artists understanding of the museum objects and the theme of historic representation, as I hurriedly power walked to the museum ( I am perpetually late to events) my mind began to wonder about the infinite ways that this repository of ancient Egyptian objects ranging from art to every day things could generate creative pieces in the next generation of artists.

Image (c) Veronika Neukirch

Image (c) Veronika Neukirch

The Petrie is not only a fantastic place to exhibit objects from days gone by but its also not a bad art gallery venue either, as the wine and conversation flowed (although I will argue that for authenticity it should have be a selection of Egyptian Gianaclis wines, perhaps a nice Omar Khayyam and a Rubis d’Egypt) I wondered around the various pieces and started speaking to the various artists trying to gain an insight into their thoughts and design processes, I was impressed with the variety of mediums used but this was perhaps the highlight of my visit, for after having spoken to about half of the artists I realised that there was perhaps a seismic change in the interpretation of the brief, the pieces were in their own right fantastic and varied, ranging from Liam F. McGarry’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ to Haffendi Anuar’s ‘Kootak (Gooey Green) but fundamentally not rooted in the uniqueness of the Petrie museum.


Liam’s piece was a series of fossilised robots in stasis of blocks of silicone, all intricately made of various metal and electronic pieces, the ‘pre-historic’ androids were then locked inside a cabinet made again by the artist, but when questioned what was more apparent was his interest in creating a larger scale Android fantasy exhibition, a noble and exciting idea, but the thread of connection to the Petrie which was in the manner of display almost seemed of secondary importance to the artist. Haffendi’s piece was a fascinating artefact made of cardboard and clay emulsion painted in a powerful green, Haffendi’s narrative was of a living growing Kootak, that he designs inside a box but without visual contact, these are then crushed and recycled and attached to the larger object on display, a truly unique method of construction, but when again offered an opportunity to situate his piece within the confines of the Petrie or the objects therein, the narrative disconnected, it could have been in any museum or art gallery.


Jack Nelson’s piece entitled ‘Willy’ was a solid water colour and pencil piece of a paparazzi snap taken from one of those strangely addictive but highly superficial gossip magazines, situated beneath a stern pencil portrait of Petrie himself, the location of the painting according to Jack was the drive in its creative engine, the juxtaposition of the fame, materialistic success versus intellectual success of Petrie himself, from this explanation alone there were the seeds to a strong connection, but again this could have been done in any gallery situated near the portrait of the owner, I was left wanting for another strand of connection. Opposite Jack’s piece was Louise Meadeb’s pieces, a collection of 60 mini cylinders painted with what looked like ancient figurative faces, her design process was driven by the repetition of ancient patterns and the inverse relationship between mass production and individual value, the piece was a subtle nod to the souvenir industries which often site shamelessly close to and tarnishing the old orthodox ruins that they claim to promote, the way of laying out the pieces was meant to draw parallels with the methodology of documentation that Petrie and his contemporise painstakingly went through to preserve the ancient artefacts they found


Tucked away down a long corridor of stone carved monuments were the creations of Veronika Neukirch ‘Collisions’ and Tanya Tier ‘Sine Qua Non’. Veronika’s had created three pieces which comprised of clay shaped into various organic shapes fused with modern day objects and artificially saturated synthetic liquids/goo frozen in time, the piece was aimed at colliding the old with the new via cheap everyday domestic objects but situating them physically as one with traditional clay, this juxtaposition of ancient and modern was the motive for this piece but my search for a connection to something, anything ancient Egyptian draw a blank this piece along with Tanya’s piece were more focused on the manner of presentation and less so on the contents of the objects themselves. Tanya’s piece was not actually displayed and here was the strength in the argument which she presented, the original piece which was a ‘Blue Tit’, preserved within a case was meant to be a statement rallying against the orthodoxy and tight bondage of existing modes of display in museums, but her own battle against this ‘deep state’ was lost/won as the environmental and logistic infrastructure did not allow her to display the now deceased bird within the confines of the museum.

Copyright J Mayne

Copyright J Mayne

Jessie Mayne’s ‘Shapes and Shadows’ was an interesting multilayered and multidimensional piece, on a first glance it seemed like a collection of random shaped silhouettes hanging and slowly rotating in the draft, but upon closer inspection they appeared to be outlines and of samples of various object dotted around the museum, arms, ears, parts of statues and other everyday objects, the pieces whilst painted in a rich dark blue were then embellished with patterns picked up from various garments and fabrics and off pottery. Jessie’s piece was a statement about how the across the globe and across the recorded history of humanity how we haven’t actually changed that much, the object were instantly recognisable and this thread along with the multilayered production value in my mind made this a very praise worthy piece, this was I was looking for in the museum, this creative concoction of artists own thoughts, their own unique take on the Egyptian objects and their impression/reaction to the Petrie museum itself.


Just opposite ‘Shapes and Shadows’ was Harvey Whetsone’s ‘Trooper’ two fascinating masks made of plaster of paris painted black then hand etched lines criss-crossing the faces giving them an organic bark like quality. Harvey’s piece took its energy from the dens made by kids in surrey and the remoteness of nomadic objects, when speaking to Harvey his contextual drive was taken from African culture as a whole rather than the specific Egyptian culture and his design process extrapolated this onto this haunting but fascinating face masks, what his pieces lack in contextual origin at the beginning of the design process were more than adequately compensated for by the placing of his pieces directly above two cases of mannequins dressed in ancient Egyptian clothing, powerfully located this piece and opposite it Jessie’s piece had a strong resonance within their placing within the interior of the museum.


Tucked away in the corner of the museum on an Ipad was Georgia Clemson’s piece ‘Vision’ a short and highly stylized animation about how the gods had bequeathed their powers to the ancient people and thus the amazing achievements of the ancient Egyptians were possible, she did deny having ever watched the film Star Gate but regardless this was a unique interpretation, it is clear that Georgia has a flair for digital art and this is an artist we should who has strong potential.


The potential displayed by the artists was very encouraging and I hope that the self confidence is developed in order to enable further engaging work. The Petrie staff do an excellent job at opening up the collection to a broad spectrum of people who otherwise would not have walked its corridors hopefully this is the beginning of a renaissance of interest in things ancient as we hurtle towards a digital world which is relegating analogue one.

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