Artist Statement: KALI
The mummies represent an ongoing process of following all the interesting permutations of what was, to start with, an idea arrived upon completely unexpectedly. I was reading “The Lost History of the Canine Race” by Mary Elizabeth Thurston as part of my lifelong obsession with dogs. I came to a passage describing ancient Egyptian practices of pet mummification including descriptions from Plutarch describing bereaved owners shaving their entire bodies to express their grief. I was floored by the images which flooded my mind. These precious artifacts are actually some real person’s unconditional love giving dearly departed, prepared for the journey to the afterlife, left by their mourning owners. It really touched a sentimental nerve and stimulated my aesthetic.
I started to become very interested in Egyptology. At first I was just looking for information about dog mummies. What I found in addition was an amazing collection of very odd, wonderful, and beautiful ideas, practices, and artifacts. There were mummified crocodiles, pork chops, eggs, ducks, monkeys with human heads... There were x-rays revealing causes of death, post-mortem repairs, and embalmers cheats. There were elaborate canopic jars within ornate chests, coffins within coffins within sarcophogi...
I was particularly impressed with the mummified food - something to snack on for the journey to the western lands. As someone with basically no knowledge of Egyptology, I had assumed that mummification was reserved for Pharaohs and the well to do. The more strange and surprising these things became to me, the more it became apparent that my reactions had a lot to with how completely normal all these things were to the people who did them. It was part of their everyday life. It was not a religion per se. It was simply ‘the way things are’. I wondered about the religious fervor our culture applies to the things we feel are important which people of the future might discover and remark upon with comments about how odd we were. I wondered what we would bring along to snack upon during our journey to heaven.
The image came to me in a flash and I laughed out loud.
I saw the Big Mac Fries and Coca Cola meticulously prepared for the journey much like a loving mother prepares a bag lunch for her child’s first day of school.
I had to do it.
My studies turned to Egyptian embalming practices, rituals, and lore. Somehow it was important that I really do it right. I made natron from Leslie salt and Arm & Hammer baking soda, Pennzoil was chosen as representing our sacred oil, Schilling herbs and spices were used as our culture’s equivalents of ancient frankincense and myrrh. I wrote prayers and incantations, I extracted the hamburger’s internal organs and preserved them separately. The whole process was becoming a lot of fun, generating more energy than I was putting into it. By the time the mummy was finished I had more ideas for new pieces than I knew what to do with.
The mummy itself was very satisfying: it seemed to contain everything I had put into it. It is a ridiculous sight gag that makes people laugh and smile. Children immediately recognize it. It is full of symbols and cultural commentary. Thinkers analyze its meaning. It is a rich and beautiful object on a completely abstract level. Artists see what I am doing with form, texture, and light.
I was very pleased.
I received such a positive initial response from friends, the community (we won an award at our first public showing), and most importantly myself, that I was like a 5 year old in my enthusiasm to follow through with all the ideas for related pieces which flooded my consciousness.
I made a set of canopic jars by floating the pickles, onions, lettuce, and cheese from the hamburger in resin castings. I built mastabas with internal lights to display them in dramatic fashion. I had an x-ray made of the mummy. I started mummifying other cultural icons and symbols. I developed a hieroglyphic language based on corporate glyphs having discovered that the shapes used by the ancients were as rich in subtext, and as taken for granted as are our Nike, Chevron, and BMW logos are. I had all sorts of ideas for canopics, mummies, funerary wares, offerings, reliquaries, and shrines. The ideas come so quickly that even though I only keep the really solid ones, I continue to have an endless list of objects to address, crafts to learn, and riddles to solve. I will be creating pieces in this vein for as long as I can keep going.
Every single mummy and related piece has a story. Some can be deduced through a deconstructive analysis of the constituent parts. Other things are purely personal and continue to be shared with interested parties at openings and parties. I suppose there is a lot more writing to be done on it all, but I find that part of the fun is in the incomplete nature of my explanations of objects which seem begging to be justified by virtue of their oddness. People constantly refine my concepts with their ideas, they volunteer things I had never thought of, nor meant to infer, and these conversations lead to all sorts of new ideas such that the body of work takes on a life of its own.
As long as I continue to share these pieces with thoughtful people, the entire aesthetic will continue to evolve in really interesting conversations about often distantly related things, funny ideas about art and society, sketchbooks full of stream of consciousness scribble, drawings of monuments and toys and mass produced products, and new pieces which I feel so fortunate to find bringing as much joy to others as making them brings to me.
Colin Reed Miller, when he is not inhabiting his art (kaliartifacts.com) and music (geomagnetic.tv/artists/kali.htm) alter ego KALI, is a commercial artist working the film and television industry. His credits include Director, Visual Effects Supervisor, Senior Visual Effects Artist, and Post-Production Supervisor. His portfolio of work includes many feature films, Superbowl halftime spots, and music videos for major artists. He is the founder of SPECIAL/AWESOME a stereoscopic3D content boutique (specialawesome.com) and he is currently working for Obscura Digital in San Francisco directing large scale building projections of record breaking proportions for a worldwide audience.