The Ten Commandments takes the form of a multiple-screen installation, commissioned by The NewBridge Project as part of Reconfiguring Ruins; an AHRC-funded research project that interrogates the relationship between arts, heritage and urban regeneration by looking at ruins as processes, materialities and mediations.
Kelvin Brown and Jacob Robinson set out on a journey to find the ruined remains of the set for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 film The Ten Commandments, this replica of ancient Egypt has laid buried in the sands of the Guadalupe Dunes on the Coast of California since the film finished shooting in the twenties.
Instead they found “at the counter of a Mexican diner two elderly men, they told stories of the demise of Guadalupe from a thriving Wild West community to a town where half the shops on Main Street lie empty, and of the internment of Guadalupe’s Japanese community during the Second World War.”
In Kelvin and Jacob’s new multiple-screen installation, the ruins of Hollywood history become a lens with which to view the ruination of a once vibrant community, and as a way examine the impact of the thousands of vehicles that now drive across the dunes and beaches which once served as locations for DeMille. The film set, which lay buried in the sands for decades, and which had now been the subject of several archeological digs became the mechanism for a metaphorical excavation of the towns troubled history.
The introductory sequences from the original black and white version of the Ten Commandments acted as a template for their cinematic approach. In returning to the original locations used in the film they echoed its visual language; Hence the Egyptian chariots were recast as the pick-up trucks that now thunder across the dunes, and DeMille’s approach in filming the exodus of the Jews was applied to the movements of modern day people within the same cinematic landscape.
This Old Testament story, told repeatedly by DeMille, and endlessly through history, and occurring as it does in the scriptures of three of the worlds major religions, here became a way of examining far more personal ideas of faith and religion.
Kelvin and Jacob said “Ultimately this process of construction, representation, myth making and final ruination, with its associated tension between the simulated and the real, allowed questions to be asked as to the notion of authenticity. These literal and metaphorical ruins raise questions as to the potential future of American society, a country who’s ideals and aspirations have been so successfully propagated throughout Hollywood history.
The preview event will be preceded by a brief discussion and Q&A with the artists Kelvin Brown and Jacob Robinson, and members of Reconfiguring Ruins research team: Nadia Bartolini (University of Exeter and Open University), James Dixon (Museum of London Archaeology), and Carlos Lopez Galviz (Lancaster University and Principal Investigator in the project).
Kelvin Brown and Jacob Robinson:
Kelvin Brown and Jacob Robinson are both graduates from the Royal College of Art in London who make work collaboratively as well as maintaining their own individual creative practices.
Jacob is an artist who explores social and historical paradigms. His work spans documentary films, photography work, publications and print media to uphold the tradition of discovery, whilst aiming also to challenge the accepted parameters of the genres. His work commonly features ruins, as well as the artefacts of history as central themes. Kelvin is a Manchester-based artist.
His work is concerned with the relationship between memory and emotion, ranging from single channel sound work through to multi-channel site specific installations and large scale collaborative projects which commonly involve the production and utilisation of archives. Recent projects have been featured at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and at the Chisenhale Gallery, Horse Hospital and Tate Modern, London.
Reconfiguring Ruins: Materialities, Processes and Mediations:
Funded by an AHRC ‘Care for the Future’ Development Award, Reconfiguring Ruins brings together the School of Advanced Study, University of London, the Open University, Newcastle University and Sheffield University, The NewBridge Project (Newcastle) and the Museum of London Archaeology (London) to creatively and critically reflect on the contemporary explosion in ruins and ruination.
The project aims to critically reflect on the contemporary explosion of interest in ruins across the arts and humanities by re-connecting the theoretical and methodological metaphors which draw on ruins and ruination (e.g. ‘excavation’, ‘archaeology’, ‘palimpsest’) with the materiality of the ruin; the processes by which ruins emerge, change, and are sustained; and the different kinds of actors that engage with ruins.
The aesthetic of ruins privileged in the romantic concept of Ruinenlust (illustrated by, among others, Tate Britain’s ‘Ruin Lust’ exhibition, March-May 2014) captures a particular Western gaze on ruins as a concept, site and process. Our cross-disciplinary and cross-period approach questions the meaningfulness of ruins from other perspectives, and asks whether the imagination of ruins can be a generative and pre-figurative means of engaging with future change as well as thinking about interactions with the past. Conversations at workshops in London (12-13 January 2015) and Newcastle (4-5 June 2015) between academics, artists and practicing archaeologists, among others, will form the basis for a range of critical and creative work.
The Crypt Gallery:
In 2002 the Crypt at St Pancras Church became a gallery space where the imagination, thoughts and emotions of 21st century artists are shared with visitors from around the world. Now this popular venue hosts a year-round programme of art exhibitions. As a church we are pleased to include art that provokes and questions, as well as art designed for contemplation, because all form an important part of our common humanity. Throughout history the Church has encouraged and supported the arts and artists. Long may this continue.
The Ten Commandments was commission by The NewBridge Project and supported by an AHRC ‘Care for the Future’ Development Award & Arts Council England.
The presentation at The Crypt Gallery, London is supported by the OpenSpace Research Centre through The Open University.