King Tat

King Tat, at The John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton from December 6 - January 28, is an ambitious new commission by Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson. The project comprises the largest installation made to date by the artists.

Inspired by the 1924 display of Tutankhamen’s tomb in the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, the installation represents a humorous response to Western public’s fascination with ‘reality’ culture and death. In a fairground atmosphere, the 1924 exhibition was a show of replicas, an attempt to narrate imperial geography and history in suburban London. Doyle and Mallinson have now created suburban London in all its housing estate glory through the lens of tradition.

The artists’ curiosity of political and commercial exploitation is shown through the conflict of high and low art in their work. Taking an ancient custom and making it art-world ready through a series of ironic distortions, this is a tomb built for a King of Tat. Constructed uniquely for the gallery space, the two-part tomb follows the ritual of burying the dead with valuables and objects needed for the afterlife. The antechamber holds a jumble of decaying household possessions, dirty mattresses and a rusting carriage for the afterlife (in this case, a Fiat Panda); a sad reward for an impecunious soul, whose cheap grave goods become priceless in death. With gaudy wall murals and kitsch four-foot high ‘Westies’ guarding the burial chamber, the work depicts an ambiguous moral message.

Modern concepts of death and religion are echoed throughout the burial chamber, with a chest-freezer sarcophagus questioning possibilities of cryogenic re-animation, alongside visions of a ‘live fast’ culture, daubed on the chamber walls.

The work as a whole reflects the artists’ continuing need to create an aesthetic chaos. The project is intimate and darkly entertaining; iconic of our modern day desire to glimpse inside the lives, and deaths, of others.

Exhibition information, including interview with artists, is here

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