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Panoptiscope – Sarah Beddington, 2005

University College, London (South Cloisters), Gower Street, London WC1 6BT, 5 October – 19 November, 2005

Following a three month residency at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL, Sarah Beddington created a site-specific installation in the South Cloisters of UCL which comprised of paintings, etched glass and video works. The title references, the Panopticon, Jeremy Bentham’s eighteenth century surveillance system for a model prison that will also be the name given to the Petrie Museum’s new building. Beddington has chosen to reference the Panopticon by working with an existing wood and glass kiosk, appropriately once intended for use by a security guard. Sited directly across the hall from the ‘auto-icon’ of Jeremy Bentham, the kiosk could also be seen to relate to the surveillance tower of his Panopticon concept As an inverse interpretation it will only give up its secrets when peered into, in the manner of a pre-cinematic peepshow.

Beddington has chosen to focus on one year in the life of William Flinders Petrie.

Between 1889 and 1890 Petrie made two excavations at Lahun, a pyramid site from the Twelfth dynasty (circa 1850 –1700 BC), on the edge of the western desert 100km south of Cairo. He identified the pyramid pharaoh and uncovered the remains of the town built close to house its construction workers. A number of largely domestic objects and a rare collection of papyri containing fascinating written information about Egyptian life during this period were discovered at these sites.

The ant-eaten fragments of translated papyrus texts have a contemporary directness that Beddington hasjuxtaposed with excerpts from Petrie’s Lahun journal. Etching these texts onto the glass panels of the kiosk she creates a dialogue between an ancient society and the man excavating it. Glimpsed beyond the written words, ‘Panoptiscope’ contains enigmatic visual narratives about objects and places in a variety of media. The mixture of archival and contemporary video footage shot by Beddington at the museum and Lahun echo the collapse of any linear timeline in the exterior texts, creating a veiled box of intermingling distant, not-so distant and contemporary moments.


Visit Sarah Beddington's website here.

Existing kiosk pre-installation
Panoptiscope installation view
Still from one of the videos inside Panoptiscope

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