A second digital screen in the Museum accompanied the main installation featuring footage of the artist interacting with other objects from the Museum in an additional artwork, 'Presence and Absence'.
Discover some of the stories and information about these objects, as well as highlights of some of the drawings by Marina Abramović, created during her residency at the Museum.
Convex Silvered-Bronze Mirror
Round metal disks like this, with their polished surfaces, have been used as mirrors over the centuries in many different parts of the world. This one was found in 1895 near a Saxon burial ground, along with two small pots and a bronze plaque. The site was also thought to contain Roman finds.
Mirrors feature prominently in folklore and superstition, including the belief that they are able to reveal the future. The practice of divination through reflection was often linked with witchcraft in medieval Europe. Mirrors were also thought to reflect a person’s soul; a distorted reflection meant a corrupted soul, and those without souls – such as vampires – did not have reflections at all.
This ceramic figure is one of a small group of Chancay pottery objects purchased by G. F. Lawrance from an auction house at the turn of the twentieth century. The body of the figure is a simplified rectangular shape, painted with slip decoration and a triangular face with light marks indicating facial features underneath a rounded headdress, hat or hairstyle.
Today, Chancay is a small city in a valley north of Lima, but this item originates from the pre-Columbian Chancay culture that existed sometime between 1000 to 1470 CE and before the Inca Empire expanded into their lands. The ‘hat’ on the figure has some similarities in appearance to the corner pointed hat typical of Wari culture (500–100 AD), suggesting a possible influence from earlier styles and cultural references in the Andes region. Chancay pottery attracted the attention of Western collectors of antiquities before modern law and guidance on the sale and transportation of cultural artefacts, as the spontaneity of their decoration was considered charming. Human figures were often made in male-female pairs and are thought to have been originally dressed in clothing. The function of such ceramic figures is not known, but is has been suggested that they were placed in tombs as companions or guardians of the dead.
Ivory Figures of a Man and a Woman
PRM 1924.14.1 and 1924.14.2
These two small ivory figures, thought to represent a man and a woman, were likely to have been taken from ancient grave sites in what is now known as Southampton Island or Shugliaq (in Inuktitut), part of the Kivalliq region in Nunavut, in Hudson Bay, northeast Canada. They are thought to be of Palaeolithic origin, from a people known in archaeological research as the ‘Dorset Culture’, who are thought to have been in the area from 500 BCE to between 1000 CE and 1500 CE, preceding the Thule people (proto-Inuit) in the North American Arctic. Some Inuit legends recount an ancient people called the Tuniit, who are described as shy giants with extraordinary strength.
The figure thought to represent a man stands tall, as if with his shoulders back and arms held at the sides, and arms and legs slightly bowed. A pair of eyes, a mouth and ears have been carved to create a face. The smaller second figure, perhaps of a woman, appears worn and has no obvious facial features or arms. The stomach is rounded suggesting pregnancy and an association with fertility. The feet appear broken, below the circular aperture used to carve her legs, leading to suggestions that the feet were carved as joined, and that this was worn as pendant, hung in an inverted posture, perhaps in remembrance of a person. Similar ivory figures from this area of the world and across the Arctic regions, were fashioned into pendants and used in this way.
These objects arrived at the museum via the British Captain Henry Toke Munn (1864–1952), who travelled to Canada aged twenty-two to work as a farmer and horse breeder before joining the Yukon gold rush. Munn founded the Arctic Gold Exploration Syndicate, which was later sold to Hudson’s Bay Company.
This drum is made from a single membrane of animal skin, stretched across a narrow wooden hoop and with a handle of walrus ivory. Records suggest it was played by beating against the lower border of the hoop, rather than against the membrane itself. Drums are familiar objects across the Arctic region, used as part of the fabric of social life in celebrations, storytelling and entertainment, but also strongly associated with shamanic practices, communicating with the spirits and facilitating trances. The power of the drum and its association with shamanism meant that drums were forbidden by missionaries and colonizing communities in the nineteenth century and onwards. However, many songs from the region have survived and are still performed.
Today, the logo of the National Library of Greenland shows a person holding a drum, illustrating the generational transmission of oral histories in Inuit culture through songs accompanied by the rhythm of a beating drum. Courtrooms in Greenland have also been known to have drums on display in reference to their historic role in settling disputes through song duels.
PRM 1912.22.2 and 1912.22.3
These two figures fashioned from sticks and fabric, and possibly representing a male and a female, were collected around the city of Jarablus in northern Syria in the early twentieth century. They were recorded as being hung in fields as charms to promote the fertility of crops.
One figure wears a black and red outfit, with the face and head created from different coloured wools and a tuft of red and yellow feathers placed at the top. The second doll wears a blue top with a patterned fabric wrapped like a skirt below. It also features a cowrie shell (sometimes associated with female symbolism) and half a blue bead has been hung around the neck.
Lying on the western bank of the Euphrates river, near the border with Türkiye, Jarabus is close to the ancient ruins of Carchemish, a site mentioned in Assyrian and Biblical texts that began attracting archaeological attention in the late nineteenth century. The person who gave these fertility dolls to the museum in 1911, D. G. Hogarth, was an archaeologist and curator at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford from 1909 to 1927. He had been directing excavations at Carchemish, with a team from the British Museum, between 1911 and 1914.
USB Memory Stick
Excavated from a school playing field in Hendon, north London, England
We are actively creating archaeology every day. This USB stick was donated to the museum by the archaeologist Gabriel Moshenska in 2016. Dating from the twenty-first century, like many other (and perhaps older) archaeological objects, this memory stick helps provide a snapshot of individual lives and cultural practices at a point in time. After being unearthed, the memory stick was found to contain digital music files of songs by Amy Winehouse, Rick Ross, Akon, Jassi Sidhu and Chris Brown; video (MPEG) files of a Bhangra dance group called ‘Signature’ performing on a popular TV talent show; and content from adult websites. With the continuous development of contemporary digital technologies and their obsolescence, if this object had remained in the ground and was only discovered in two hundred years’ time, would we still be able to access the data stored on it to give us that snapshot?
Follow the artist’s path through the displays to encounter some of the objects that attracted her attention.
Five pink QR codes were positioned in display cases around the installation during the exhibition, to help locate the seven items within the dense displays and linking to the content below.
This map and locations were correct at time of the exhibition April 2022 – June 2023, but displays may be updated and the marked trail is no longer visible and the main installation exhibit is no longer on display.