Kate Daudy: It Wasn’t That At All

The Saatchi Gallery invited two artists in residence Cyril de Commarque and Kate Daudy, to prepare art installations in response to the new exhibition Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh (running from 2 November 2019 until 3 May 2020).

It Wasn’t That At All is the title of multimedia installation created by Kate Daudy (British, b.1970). During her residency Daudy immersed herself in research about faith and traditions of the ancient Egypt. The artist turned one of the gallery rooms into a temporary studio space filled with artworks and research-related materials.

Kate Daudy, photo: Richard Gooding

Along with the larger artworks there are little paper collages resembling pages from a scrapbook. They combine notes on the ancient Egypt with personal reflections. Thinking of Tutankhamun and his legacy the artist wanted to consider the transient nature of our existence. In one of her notes she recorded a memory of a very unusual funeral of her close friend, whose widow arranged for his ashes to be placed inside fireworks.

There are two entrances to the exhibition, whichever you chose, one of the first thing that you will notice is a striking video installation with eyes looking back at you from tiny screens. The protective eye symbol is common in Ancient Egyptian art. Protective symbolism is also evoked in the repetition of the palm print in some of the decoupage works (such as Maybe I Listen More Than You Think, 2019), which is a reference to the palm-shaped amulet, known across the Middle East as the Hamsa or Hand of Fatima.

Maybe I Listen More Than You Think (crochet doilies and hand-painted wallpaper with wool decoupage on paper, 2019) by Kate Daudy, photo courtesy of the artist

According to the ancient Egyptian belief the soul resided in the human heart. Tutankhamun’s burial was a hasty one, and, unusually, the heart was absent and replaced with an amulet. Having researched mummification techniques the artist also witnessed a heart surgery, which was a very unique experience. In order to encourage the viewers to reflect on our mortality and belief in afterlife, a footage from a heart bypass is presented right next to the ‘embalming table’ installation.

The worship of the powers of nature was a large part of the ancient Egyptian belief system. The Sun was especially revered, and there were multiple deities associated with it. Tutankhamun’s father, known as Akhenaten, proclaimed Aten (the god of the sun disc) as the supreme god. However, Akhenaten’s attempt at establishing monotheism was controversial and short-lived. After his death, his son restored polytheism and changed his own name from Tutankhaten to Tutankhamun, which is how we refer to him today.

It Wasn’t That At All, installation view, photo: Richard Gooding

I was immediately drawn to the images of the Sun and the Moon made of little felt circles applied on fabric. I asked the artist why she decided on the little round shapes. She answered that she could not imagine them being any other shape, it felt natural. Circles and discs often appear in Daudy’s works, but they seem to be more significant in the context of the Tutankhamun exhibition. These organic forms since prehistoric times have been used in art to represent nature, cosmos or eternity. To emphasise the importance of the Sun for the people of ancient Egypt, the artist installed a symbolic altar in front of the Sun image. Nearby is a textile sculpture of another important feature of the ancient Egyptian belief system – the Nile. It resembles a waterfall spilling on the ground in circular waves.

Daudy often explores the ideas of loss, trauma, memory and hope in her art. Recently displayed at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, Am I My Brother’s Keeper?, was a standard issue UNKCR tent embroidered and inscribed by the artist, which was aimed to bring attention to the plight of the refugees. Text is an important component of her artworks and installations. In the case of the works displayed in the current exhibition the meaning is not always literal and can be multi-layered, for example It Wasn’t That At All (2019), which lent its title to the exhibition. The inscriptions are meant to inspire conversations or prompt personal reflections.

The artist explains that much of her practice is influenced by Chinese tradition of inscribing poetry onto everyday objects. Applying letter shapes made of felt, she adds new meaning to pre-existing objects, such as dresses or furniture. The pharaonic bench on display here is not only beautiful but also functional. In addition, the inscription on the bench serves as a reminder that The Past Never Remains In The Past. One of the important things we learn from this exhibition is that studying the past can help us come to terms with our own mortality and to understand ourselves better. It Wasn’t That At All created in dialogue with the legacy of Tutankhamun is a thought-provoking installation with many beautiful works of art.


It Wasn’t That At All at the Saatchi Gallery accompanies the exhibition Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh (running from 2 November 2019 until 3 May 2020). Entrance included with tickets for the Tutankhamun exhibition.


Read more:

Artist’s website: https://katedaudy.com/

Exhibition website: https://www.saatchigallery.com/art/artists-in-residence.php


Featured image: video stills from the wall installation

Images courtesy of the artist and the gallery.

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