New King Tut exhibit is unlike anything you’ve seen before
Words Lin Stranberg
Tutankhamun, the 12th pharaoh of the 18th Egyptian dynasty, became king of Egypt when he was only nine years old. He ruled for less than a decade, from approximately 1332 to 1323 BC, before dying at the age of 19. The cause of his death has never been determined but a new immersive art show coming to Vancouver looks closely at his life and death.
When British archaeologist Howard Carter first arrived in Egypt in 1891, most of the ancient Egyptian tombs were thought to have been discovered, although that of the boy-king Tutankhamun, or “King Tut,” was still unaccounted for.
Carter searched for years. Then, on November 4, 1922, he and his Egyptian workmen discovered a step leading to the tomb of King Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, an area that was thought to have been exhausted many years before. The step to the tomb was hidden in debris near the entrance of the nearby tomb of King Ramses VI.
Carter contacted his financial backer, English archaeologist Lord Carnarvon, and about three weeks later they entered the interior chambers of the tomb together. Carter peered through a small opening.
“Can you see anything?” Lord Carnarvon asked.
“Yes, wonderful things,” Carter famously replied. The interior chambers were incredibly intact.
This remarkable story seized the imagination of the whole world in the early decades of the 20th century, with Egyptian motifs proliferating in jewellery, textiles, architecture and decorative objects.
Now it is being revitalized by a new, next-level immersive experience commemorating the discovery. Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience, produced in partnership with National Geographic, opens in Vancouver on November 4, the 100th anniversary of Carter’s historic discovery. Selecting the Vancouver Convention Centre East as the venue, the city was chosen for the special anniversary opening.
The show is billed as “the next generation of visual storytelling exhibitions.” The creative goal is to transport visitors into the past through a powerful narrative of the 3,000-year-old story of King Tut and his untimely death.
The three principal firms behind the experience are National Geographic; Paquin Entertainment Group (Beyond van Gogh; Beyond Monet); and Immersive Experiences, a firm whose creative director, Mark Lach, supervised the design of King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, an artifact show that toured between 2005 and 2012.
Together, they created the immersive experience as a work of art, using high-tech sound, projection and animation. The production owes much to National Geographic’s participation, including the use of its extraordinary photo collection, its extensive video archives and its expert academic oversight.
As creative producer, Mark Lach directed the various teams involved, including Normal Studio from Montreal, and worked closely with Kenneth Garrett, the National Geographic’s Egyptian photographer. “The participation of National Geographic is really what makes Beyond King Tut such a success,” he said. “I would not have been comfortable doing this show—and I’m certain we would not have achieved the quality of this show—without them.”
Beyond King Tut is the next generation of the immersive experience art form.
According to Mark, “As with the art shows like Monet and van Gogh, the audience is there to lose themselves in the art, and let it all happen around them.”
Those immersive art shows were beautiful, but Beyond King Tut is something else.
“The King Tut experience has a storyline with a beginning, middle and ending. It’s an amazing story to tell, and one that might otherwise have been lost in the pages of history if not for this incredible discovery,” Mark said, adding, “The exhibition captures all we love about ancient Egypt.”
The emphasis is on the mystique of the storyline and the visually dazzling content, created in a nine-gallery multisensory experience and a huge immersive room in the convention centre venue, where high-res visuals are projected on 22-foot walls. It journeys through Carter’s discovery, his exploration of the tomb, and the removal and cataloguing of the objects it contained.
Perhaps the most spectacular of all the archeological finds in the actual burial chamber was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, which was made out of solid gold, was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamun, preserved for more than 3,000 years. Beyond King Tut has entire rooms devoted to the mummification process and the funerary procession and features a 15-minute animated film that imagines Tut’s journey into the afterlife. The story unfolds in vivid imagery projected on all four walls, as well as the floor, which at one point blazes with video fire beneath visitors’ feet.
Just as the tomb’s discovery fascinated the 1922 art world, and the everyday world became obsessed with Tut-mania during the Roaring Twenties, the immersive impact of Beyond King Tut has the power to transport Vancouver audiences to another time by enabling them to immerse themselves in the mystery of ancient Egypt, the young pharaoh’s brief life and reign, and the exquisite artifacts he left behind.