Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum, 2018
A collective project and curriculum on the quest for eternity, led by artist Marguerite Humeau
From January to April 2018, international artist Marguerite Humeau led a project to ‘re-humanise humanity’ in collaboration with the current OSE associates as well as members of the public. The project culminated in an event titled ‘Strong Currents‘, which took place on Saturday 21 April 2018, in Botany Bay.
The project took as its starting point China’s first Emperor Qin (259-210 BC). The story goes that the Emperor planned his afterlife through conceiving a mausoleum with exceptional architectural, material, sonic and aromatic qualities. He commissioned the finest craftsmen to fill the tomb with rare artefacts, to set up a flowing mechanism using mercury to simulate China’s hundred rivers and to create candles made to burn forever. To this day the mausoleum hasn’t been excavated and remains ridden with myths. It is defended by the famous Terracotta Army, built by the Emperor to protect him for infinity.
On the first day of the project, the group was asked the riddle: “What are the forces that govern your lives, that you think might die, yet you would like to keep alive?”
Over three months, Marguerite Humeau gathered experts from the fields of architecture, botany, embalming, exhibition design and sound to run a series of practical workshops and guide the project’s participants towards the making of a collective artwork.
Thursday 11 – Friday 12 January 2018, 12-6pm
#1 The Team / The Spot
What would you keep alive and where? In this workshop led by Marguerite Humeau and guest artist and designer Maki Suzuki, we started building the framework of the project, defining and disrupting roles, and discuss prospective locations for a potential burial.
Thursday 1 – Friday 2 February 2018, 12-6pm
#2 The Eternal Body
We started with a talk by local embalmer Dr. Philip Gore, who taught us about the history and art of embalming. We then drew from the techniques, tools and knowledge passed on by Philip to develop sculptural methods and an understanding of materials that can survive time. We also used embalming techniques metaphorically, to think about eternity and the afterlife.
Thursday 8 – Friday 9 February 2018, 12-6pm
#3 Elixirs of Life
How do we create immortality? How do we make elixirs? We worked with botany expert Lucia Stuart, who took us on a foraging expedition along Margate’s shoreline. We looked for millennial coastal and sea plants associated symbolically and in more straightforward ways with eternal life, and transformed plants to use them as building materials.
Thursday 22 – Friday 23 February & Thursday 15 – Friday 16 March, 12-6pm
#4 The Architecture / The Ecosystem, part I
#5 The Architecture / The Ecosystem, part II
Humanity is striving to improve and, in the process, is removing vital things that make us human. In response to this phenomenon, five forces – shame, empathy, in/sanity, dysfunction and touch – have been embodied. Under the guidance of architect Owen Watson and exhibition designer Juliette Rambaud, we worked towards sealing the project’s framework and making material sense of the forces, where they belong and where they should be buried for posterity.
Thursday 22 – Friday 23 March 2018, 12-6pm
#6 The Score
For this last session, we were joined by artist Sophie Mallett who lent her sound expertise to the group to write the score of the final event.
Saturday 21 April, 12pm
The five forces – shame, empathy, in/sanity, dysfunction and touch – have now been buried at sea, where they have been decomposing and spreading to become protective forces.
On Saturday 21 April, members of the public joined us for the last mile of our quest along Botany Bay, where the beach was transformed into a score made of sounds, objects and sequences. The journey along the Bay lasted 45 min.