2nd December 2022: “Tutankhamun Immersive Exhibition” in Madrid (Spain)

In 1922, an archaeologist named Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. Tutankhamun belonged to the Eighteenth Dynasty. He reigned over Egypt around 1330 BCE, and restored the Ancient Egyptian religion. When he died, he was buried in a smaller-than-expected tomb, probably because his death was sudden and unexpected – for a while, it was hypothesised that he had been murdered, but it seems that he died from a combination of an infection and several previous pathologies (nothing to do with the fact that his parents were brother and sister, I’m sure).

The tomb was robbed and restored twice within a few years of Tutankhamun’s death, but it was eventually buried by alluvium brought by flash floods, and the debris from other tombs being built nearby. Thus, when Carter found it in 1922, it was mostly untouched and unspoilt. The death of Carter’s sponsor George Helbert, five months after visiting the tomb, sparked the rumour about a Curse of the Pharaohs, which has inspired countless works of fiction.

In 2022, Spain is living through a fad of “immersive exhibitions”, heavily based on technology, virtual reality and computer games. I was curious about what it would be about, exactly, so I decided to celebrate the end of work season by hitting the exhibit. I was early as the day before there had been a bit of public transport trouble and you usually have more chances of getting in if you’re early rather than late. Thus, I reached Centro Cultural Matadero in Madrid about half an hour earlier than my ticket read, and I was let in without any issue.

The “immersive exhibit” Tutankamón: La Exposición Inmersiva was devised by MAD, Madrid Artes Digitales, which specialises in digital creation and immersive experiences such a this. The exhibit has been designed in cooperation with the History Channel.

The first bit was a number of panels, explaining the “Egyptmania” that swept the world after the discovery of the mummy, the process of mummification, or life in ancient Egypt. The second held a replica of the inner and outer sarcophagus, along with the mummy, then replicas a few artefacts that had been found in the tomb, including the famous golden mask the pharaoh was buried with.

Three part collage: The upper picture shows the mummy of Tutankhamun suspended from the floor, imitating an open sarcophagus with the lid open on top of that. Bottom left: reproduction of the mortuary mask, in gold and blue, it has the typical Egyptian hair and beard. Lower right: reproductions of small objects found in the grave: estelae and human-like small sculptures.

Afterwards, you go into a huge ward with a projection on all four walls plus the floor, which is very spectacular but does not tell you much about the real history of either Tutankhamun or the tomb, it was just a cool video of flashy images with a narration in first person, showing the interior of the tomb, yes, but mostly vaguely-related imaginary, including some of the Egyptian gods. What it did have, and that was neat, was an original newsreel about the opening of the tomb, including Howard’s voice.

Collage of a 3D projection. Left, from top to bottom, views of Tutankhamun's grave: the outer area, in sandstone with sculptures, and two views of the inner painting an decoration, showing figures and hyeroglyphs. On the right, a projection of lotus flowers blooming and turning into gold, representing the soul of the pharaoh.

A large ward with a projection of a starry sky on the walls. At the front, a view of Tutankhamun's mortuary mask, eyes glowing.

A projection of Tutankhamun's mortuary mask, eyes glowing. Around it, golden writing symbols, maybe hyeroglyphs.

The following area had an augmented reality game, which I won (didn’t get anything though), a photo booth that I skipped and some “I bet you didn’t know” facts – about one third of them were common knowledge, and another third was information from previous panels though.

Finally, there was a room with virtual reality glasses and headphones, but my headphones wouldn’t work – I later realised they were not plugged into anything. This represented – I think – the trip to the Egyptian underworld, as I “started” at Tutankhamun’s tomb, then there were volcanoes, and I ended up in front of Anubis, who weighed a heart against a plume – the Judgement of the Dead.

The VR experience there was the last spot in the exhibition – because I skipped the photo booth – before one went into the shop. In the end, I was there for about an hour and a half, but it almost took me two hours to arrive and an hour and half to come back.

Though I don’t regret the mental break, I have decided that immersive experiences are not for me.

24th March 2018: The day I saw Hatsune Miku (Madrid, Spain)

“Vocaloid Opera – The End” is an opera for an in the digital world. It was written by Keiichiro Shibuya and performed by Hatsune Miku. Hatsune Miku [初音ミク] is a vocaloid idol. In case you’ve never heard of vocaloids, the idea is a bit complicated. A voicaloid is a singing voice synthesizer software product, basically a computer-generated singing voice. The software was released in 2004 and it exploded with popularity in Japan. Hatsune Miku was given a humanoid shape when it was released in 2017 – and it was definitely a she. So, in a way, Hatsune Miku is a voice synthesiser with a cartoon-female-human form.

Yeah, weird. I have always thought so too. But it was dirt-cheap (8 quid), and there was a session at 18:00 on Saturday that I could attend without a late train back. So I dyed my hair purple (because no, I’m not showing up to a blue-haired character’s show in blue hair), got out my thick faux-fur-neck coat and off I went.

The show was being held at Naves Matadero is a former slaughterhouse turned arts centre. It has turned the buildings into theatres, showrooms and so on. As I walked around the area, looking for my theatre I saw a hell of a lot of families with kids under ten, there to see “the doll” or “the cartoons”. I’m not kidding, during the first ten to fifteen minutes of the show, about twenty families left (≧▽≦).

Entrance to the venue, showing the sign of Naves Matadero Nave 11 and Vocaloid Opera the end

“Vocaloid Opera – The End” explores the concept of an artificial being obsessing about death. The whole show is digital, just like Miku, as she wanders the world wondering about “the end”. She seems trapped in a surreal nightmare, with several scenarios that don’t make that much sense. Miku is followed in her trip by a plush rabbit (Alice much?), she talks on the phone and there is a multiple-eye monster around.

Booklet and ticket. Both read Vocalod Opera the end, with the dates. The booklet shows an image of Hatsune Miku, crying blood, the whole booklet is tinted yellow

The music has an electronic flavour, and at times repetitive. It’s loud and you feel it more than hear it. There warnings about bright and strobe lights all around and I understood why – the whole thing relied heavily on CGI and lighting. The chosen topic, along the images were claustrophobic, and I think that was on purpose – there are different “dying” options: drowning, gas masks, withering off.

The climatic “aria” peaks with Miku asking the spectator “Am I dead? Or just asleep? You decide. It makes little difference to me.” In the end, she is a human creation so, like humans, she will “die” sometime too (aaaaand I have opinions about this because I believe that some human creations transcend their authors). And a final downside: knickers. Seriously, what’s with Japanese people and knickers?! She’s a CGI doll – true, wearing CGI clothes designed by the former artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, but a CGI doll!

That was all that I did, but here are some pictures I managed to snatch a few pictures, including of the actual 3D rendering of Miku.

Picture of the composer, dressed in yellow

Life-sized sculpture of Hatsune Miku, wearing a chequered dress that shows her waist, and heels. Her hair is flying as she turns.

16th January 2016: Un Planeta Enloquecido: Fantasmas, Monstruos, y Alienígenas en el Manga (Exhibition in Madrid, Spain)

Naves Matadero in Madrid was holding a free exhibition on Japanese “monsters, ghosts and aliens” in manga and Japanese pop culture, and since I was around I decided to drop by. Here are some pictures.

I did not stay over but took a bus right back home because it was too cold for anything else.