Scanning Seti: The regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb

Antikenmuseum Basel
October 28th, 2016 - May 06th, 2018


A collaboration between Factum Foundation (Madrid), the Antikenmuseum (Basel) and the University of Basel
Carried out with the support of the Ministry of Antiquities (Egypt)
Curated by Andre Wiese and Adam Lowe
Designed by Charlotte Skene Catling

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Scanning Seti: The Regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb is an immersive experience that transports the visitor to the most magnificent tomb of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor through the use of cutting-edge technology, 1:1 scale, perfect facsimiles and original objects. Conceived by Factum Foundation, Madrid, the Antikenmuseum and the University of Basel, and designed by Skene Catling de la Peña, London, this is an exciting, profoundly moving and erudite reflection on the past, our cultural history, how it can speak to us and how it is preserved.

In the spirit of Factum, the intention of the design is to bring the visitor as closely as possible into direct, visceral contact with the content of the show. The senses are used to engage in a primary and more profound response to the subject, where the intellect follows rather than leads. This allows immediate access to the show´s richness and depth of knowledge.

The exhibition takes over the entire ground floor and courtyard of the Antikenmuseum to create a labyrinthine route through multiple spaces that move from dark into lightness. At the core is the journey through the underworld, the symbolic transformation over twelve hours from death to rebirth. 

As a journey of enlightenment, the show also maps the evolution in attitudes to cultural heritage, through the history of the tomb of Seti I: the most magnificent in the Valley of the Kings. It moves from the tomb's discovery 200 years ago, through its near destruction in the immediate period that followed, the different fashions of invasive restoration work, to Factum's completely non-contact approach of recording and ´resurrection' today. After the exhibition in Basel, the facsimile will be moved to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, as part of the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative, a collaboration between Factum Foundation, The University of Basel, and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

This exhibition is the result of work that started seventeen years ago to fully document the tomb and explain why it looks as it does today. The work was originally carried out to give Erik Hornung the high-resolution documentation he needed to complete his remarkable work in the tomb. Since then, as digital recording becomes increasingly important, the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative was formed to train local people and supply them with the equipment and support needed to carry out the recording work locally. This initiative has been very successful. In 2014 an exact facsimile and exhibition was opened in an underground space next to Carter's House designed by Tarek Waly. In February 2017 Irina Bokova (Director General of UNESCO) opened the Centre for Recording, Archiving and Training in the fully restored mudbrick building by the great Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy. This was another collaboration between Factum Foundation and Tarek Waly Centre for Architecture and Heritage.

Room 1 Panorama – 19th C Egyptian Landscape
The visitor enters a composite panorama of a 19th-century Egyptian landscape, a landscape made up of facsimiles of watercolors and prints of sites of discovery. The main characters are introduced, they include the Albanian ruler of Egypt, Mohammad Ali Pasha, and the 19th-century Europeans who were gathering material evidence for the new museums in London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere. Giovanni Battista Belzoni is the main protagonist of the exhibition, who tells the story of the discovery of the tomb of Seti I on the 16th of October 1817, and what happened to it in the name of preservation in the 200 years that followed.

Room 2 – Model of the Tomb

In the second room the visitor is brought in near darkness to a four-metre-long, scaled model of the entire tomb; a perfect, coloured replica in miniature, 3D printed from scanned data and lit as the original. Walking between the twin slabs of the model, each two metres high with the entrance to the tomb at eye level, the visitor can feel a physical descent into another world. The sensation of being immersed in the tomb is reinforced by Lidar-scanned data edited into a fly-through film.

Room 3 - Facsimile of the Hall of Beauties – Restored - 1817
Belzoni’s fictitious entrance to the tomb becomes a threshold to the next space. Beyond, in flickering candlelight, is the Hall of Beauties restored to look as it did in 1817 when Belzoni first saw it. Lifting a candle to explore the reliefs and almost life-sized painted figures, there is the frisson of seeing these astonishing works for the first time. The visitor has a unique and personal experience of the tomb rather than a curated one, and is transported back to the original excitement of its discovery. 

Room 4 – Recording the Tomb in the 19th C – Belzoni and Ricci


In this mindset, the next space is illuminated only by the watercolours Belzoni and Ricci made of the tomb as they found it, with quotes about the remarkable condition of the tomb when they entered. For 3,100 years this tomb remained in almost the same condition as the day it was sealed. These contemporary records enabled Factum's digital restoration of the Hall of Beauties. Jewel-like paintings appear to float in the darkness, with captions that explain and contextualize the meaning of the narrative and text.

Room 5 – Destruction –Fragmentation & Souvenir Hunting

Facsimiles of two large panels, hacked out of the tomb in the 19th century and removed to Paris and Florence in the name of preservation, flank the entrance into the next space. Facing each other as mirror images, the panels demonstrate two different approaches to restoration where they now look neither like each other nor the rest of the tomb. Focused light picks out facsimiles and original fragments that were carved out as souvenirs or trophies and are now dispersed throughout the world. There is the rare chance to see facsimiles and originals shown side by side. Not only are visitors confronted by the destruction that happened between 1817 and 1827, they are also encouraged to question how things are preserved, and the relationship between originality and authenticity.

Room 6 – ‘Squeezed to Death’ – Imprinting

This is followed by a dramatic monochrome facsimile of a wall of the Hall of Beauties, based on Harry Burton’s early 20th-century black and white photographs of the tomb. The surface is brutally scarred, and the red wax of a ‘squeeze’ stains the surface like blood. This wall demonstrates how wax, paper and plaster were used to make imprints of the surface, taking the paint off with them and causing irreparable damage. These processes were reenacted in the Factum workshop and recorded in a film.

The positives and negatives of these casts are displayed in front of the facsimile.

In the same space, drawing the visitor through time, a facsimile of the celestial cow in its current state fades in and out of its original brilliant colour through projection mapping informed by Belzoni’s documentation.

Finally, two fragments of relief carving displayed on Burton’s photographs show where they came from in the tomb and the damage required to remove them.

The Hall of Beauties is manifested as three different facsimiles in the exhibition: at the beginning, the candlelit digital restoration returns it to its original condition when discovered in 1817; later, the monochrome wall shows it in its early 20th century hacked and plundered state, and finally there is the identical facsimile, the tomb as it is today. This encapsulates the chronological and thematic curve of the exhibition.

Room 7 – 19th Century Collecting

The route continues with an installation that resembles Sir John Soane’s working studio; a wall packed with fragments from different times and different places demonstrate how objects were collected and displayed in the 18th and 19th centuries.The visitor is encouraged to sit and read or look through a collection of artefacts displayed in plan chests accumulated over the course of Factum’s 17-year relationship with the Valley of the Kings. They illustrate the development of technologies and Factum´s approach to cultural preservation. Gandy’s watercolour of Seti’s sarcophagus in Soane’s museum dominates one wall.

An 1806 Rowlandson engraving caricatures the Egyptomania that followed Napoleon’s campaign, and an image from Thornton’s Don Juan in London published in 1822 illustrates Belzoni’s gas-lit-19th-century facsimile that fascinated and entertained fashionable Londoners at the Egyptian Halls on Piccadilly.

Room 8 – Seti’s Alabaster Sarcophagus and the Book of Gates

At the centre of the labyrinth is the astonishing and ground-breaking facsimile of Seti’s alabaster sarcophagus. The original was brought to London by Belzoni and acquired by John Soane in whose house, and under glass, it remains today. The complex geometry and the translucency of the stone made it impossible to reproduce until now. The sarcophagus has an ethereal presence in a space that evokes pale, dawn light and references the rebirth that concludes the Book of Gates. This narrative is incised into the sarcophagus, and reproduced in a dark blue pigment on the walls, as the inscriptions were when the sarcophagus first arrived in London. In an attempt to correct the staining and discolouration caused by 19th and early 20th-century pollution, the alabaster was scrubbed with abrasives, completely removing the coloured infill. The sarcophagus was made using Océ’s elevated printing, a technique never used before in this way, another example of the application of cutting-edge technology to heritage preservation. Original pieces also occupy this central space and provide the presence of the subject of the exhibition, the Pharaoh Seti I.

Room 9 – 20th and 21st Century Recording

Moving towards the light and the 20th century, the visitor enters a pure white space, focused on the documentation of the tomb by the photographer and egyptologist Harry Burton, the excavations by Sheik Ali in the 1960’s, and the work of Erik Hornung which provides the Egyptological foundation of the exhibition. Co-curator Andre Wiese was a student of Hornung’s at the University of Basel, and it was his inspired research into the meaning of the text in the tomb that makes this exhibition so significant.

A central column is covered in the ghostly outlines of figures missing from the tomb, studded with facsimiles of fragments discovered by the University of Basel. Between 1998-2005 the team under Susanne Bickel has discovered over 6,000 pieces of the tomb hacked or dislodged from the walls as collateral damage. These are recorded, analysed and then located in a painstaking task of jigsaw-puzzle and detective work to reform damaged sections. These fragments contribute to making the facsimile of the tomb more complete than the original in its current state; they contribute important narrative and meaning along with an undeniable physical presence.

Beyond, the 21st-century approach to recording and dissemination is represented by Factum Foundation’s ‘non-contact’ work. The space flickers, illuminated by films of the making of the facsimile. A Lucida scanner has been set up to record a wall panel allowing the process to be observed live: as the laser slowly advances over the object surface, data is recorded and then processed into a form that can be accessed virtually, or used to generate facsimiles in 3D.

At the centre of the space is an enormous vitrine of material collected over 17-years that illustrates the beautiful, messy, creative processes that underpin Factum’s cool, technological recording and output. Hand sketches, analytical drawings of the egyptological detective work that went into the digital restoration of the Hall of Beauties, test panels of the Océ printing techniques, depth maps and coloured diagrams; all reveal the immense range of creative thought, human skill and artistry required to record and rematerialise cultural heritage. This is at the core of the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative. Set up in 2009 as a collaboration between the University of Basel, Factum’s Foundation and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, it has already achieved extraordinary things.

Cinema
A small, dedicated cinema space allows the visitor to pause and reflect, watching a variety of films ranging from virtual ‘fly-throughs’ of the tomb itself, to news coverage of the innovative work and discoveries, to detailed, zoomed in views of the sarcophagus from scanned data, to discussions of the ideas and philosophy behind this work, all which reveal the passion that underpins every aspect of the project. Some of the videos projected include a presentation of the facsimile of Tutankhamun and a video report on the work of the Foundation by PBS.

Fluorescent Green Depth Map Transition

From the darkness of the cinema space, the visitor emerges into a radiant space of acid-green fluorescent light. Full-size depth maps, analytical imaging of the pillars from the Sarcophagus chamber printed in characteristic brilliant green, line the route that leads to the facsimile of the tomb.

As the human retina is unaccustomed to experiencing pure monochrome, the effect is disorientation, which is heightened when moving from one intense space to another.The visitor is drawn into a state of heightened perception. The intense artificial light represents the process of scanning and replication while intensifying awareness of sense. Moving beyond the green light, the eyes produce a magenta after image – a deep pink glow is created completely within the viewer’s head. The visible becomes physiological.Light is the first thing perceived at birth, and apparently, the last thing experienced at death.This is the threshold at which the viewer is challenged to question fundamental notions of authenticity and originality and sensory vs. intellectual responses.

Room 10 & 11 – Facsimile of the Hall of Beauties and Room J, as they are today.

Cycles of rebirth are the narrative of the tomb. Can the tomb itself be re-born? The physical experience of the facsimile raises many questions. The intellectual response is suspended: are we in Luxor or Basel? Under or above ground? Is this real? How accurate is it? How is it made? Those who have never been to Egypt will be able to feel the extraordinary power of this tomb. Those who have been in the original experience a total suspension of belief….the facsimile really does look and feel identical to the original.

Leaving, there is a real sense of having experienced something profound. A thought lingers: Is it better to visit the original and contribute to its destruction through one’s own presence, or to be part of a new approach that can present something more complete than the original?

After the exhibition in Basel, the facsimile will be installed next to that of the tomb of Tutankhamun at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, between Stoppelaere’s House, which has recently opened as the new 3D scanning, archiving and training centre, and Carter’s House. All those who visit will be part of a new generation contributing to the well-being of the local community and the survival of the knowledge contained in the Tomb of Seti I, the most important tomb in the Theban Necropolis.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

EXPLORE
Virtual tour of the tomb of Seti I
3D video animation of the Sarcophagus of Seti I

VIDEO
Printing skins and adding colour
Re-materializing data
Squeezes, an invasive conservation technique
Adam Lowe presents the exhibition
Tour Scanning Seti from a smartphone

READ
2017 Scanning Seti (article)
2017 Two hundred years in the life of Seti (booklet)
2017 Scanning Seti (exhibition catalogue, in German)
2002 Recording Seti (book)

Photo credits: Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation and Ruedi Habegger, Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig

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