Excavating Myths Made in Hollywood

Excavating Myths Made in Hollywood

In Excavation II, Daniel Small 07 PH considers how the imagined kingdom of the 1923 film The Ten Commandments influences popular understanding of Egyptian history.

When filming ended on the 1923 film The Ten Commandments, director Cecil B. DeMille ordered that the set be destroyed and buried to prevent others from using the ornate replicas featured in the biblical epic. By blowing up the reimagined—and perhaps fictional—Egyptian city of Pi-Ramesses in the desert of Guadalupe, CA, however, the legendary filmmaker effectively preserved the site in sand for nearly a century.

Cecil B. DeMille, The Ten Commandments (1923)

These remains are the inspiration for Excavation II, an archaeological project by Daniel R. Small 07 PH that is currently on view in Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

The mouth and chin of a sphinx model found in the remains of The Ten Commandments set in Guadalupe, CA.

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 30) Small will speak with Corning Museum of Glass Deputy Director Jack Green about the project at the Hammer Museum. Excavating the Ten Commandments begins at 7:30 pm PST, and RISD alumni in the area are encouraged to join RISD/LA for a gathering at the museum before Small’s talk.

Small learned the story of this intentional ruin in 2010 and joined a series of digs to explore how popular knowledge of history is filtered through and reconstructed by the myth-making powers of Hollywood and popular culture.

To demonstrate The Ten Commandments’ influence on perceptions of ancient Egypt, Excavation II puts Small’s archaeological findings into conversation with paintings that were removed from the Luxor Resort and Casino in Las Vegas in 2007. The Luxor paintings (like John Whytock’s acrylic-on-canvas, right), Small notes, combine images of DeMille’s Egypt and other imaginings of the ancient kingdom with representations of real historical sites.

With this project, Small asks viewers to be “fully aware and productively suspicious that history is always being imaginatively figured as it is seemingly being figured out. Excavation II proceeds from an awareness that history is based not on the certitude of concrete facts but rather on the productive unreliability and partiality of lived and invested memories, myths, ideologies, stories and dreams."

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