Immersive Tut in Toronto: A cinematic trip to the Afterlife

No Tut, no golden mask  – but a fun, evocative ride to the Egyptian afterlife.

By Virginia Martos Armenteros (& Laura Ranieri Roy)

Banner from the Immersive Tut

Photo: Virginia Martos Armenteros. Banner from Immersive Tut in Toronto.

 

On Tuesday, August 9, 2022, Ancient Egypt Alive attended the Toronto premiere of the Immersive Tut exhibition, an initiative of Lighthouse Art Space, Coco Labs, IFFDA and the Egyptian Tourism and Affairs Council.

The show runs in Toronto at Lighthouse Artspace (1 Yonge Street) from August 10 to October 30 – and is also slated to come to a handful of US cities from Cleveland and Chicago through New York, LA and Houston. Purchase tickets herehttps://immersive-kingtut.com/toronto/

A cinematic Egyptian afterlife journey

Lighthouse Artspace is known for its other shows such as Immersive Frida Kahlo or Immersive Van Gogh. Immersive Tut, however, is a completely different show. Instead of engulfing you inside famous paintings of renowned artists, it takes you on a journey through the afterlife, alongside famous King Tut.

Immersive Tut could not have come at a better time, as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and treasures by Howard Carter. But don’t expect to meet Carter  – or experience Tut’s treasures in this experience

As Richard Ouzounion, creative consultant for Immersive Tut, explained, the show is not focused on the mummy or precious artifacts, but on ancient Egyptian religion and spirituality. The experience itself – which is cinematic in nature – surrounds the book of the Amduat which recounts the twelve-hour journey that the soul of the dead king undertakes to reach the afterlife and ensure the welfare of Egypt.

There is no virtual reality headgear, Not too much moving from room to room or touching objects, It is a largely cinematic experience. The main show features artistic projections on the wall of one large room, striking images that ebb, flow, appear and fade, stirring music and a powerful narration by a theatrical script around the journey to the afterlife. If you have ever seen a Sound and Light show in Egypt – it is a bit closer to that.

We also have the opportunity to interview Richard Ouzounion after the exhibition. If you want to know more about the show, how it was originated and the objectives and ideas behind it, watch the interview we made in our youtube channel: https://youtu.be/O_whHR22n9s. (There are also some exclusive sneak peeks of the show that you cannot miss!)

What is the “Book of the Amduat” anyway?

The book of the Amduat is one of the most important funerary texts of the New Kingdom (1550-1069) in Ancient Egypt. Among many other funerary texts, one small passage from this is found written inside of King Tut’s tomb. This book narrates the journey that the solar god Re makes throughout the underworld during 12 hours of the night from sunset (death), to sunrise (rebirth). It was believed every king took this journey alongside Re after death. The rebirth of both the king and the sun god is essential to the continuity of Egypt itself.

Image inside Pharaoh Tutankhamun´s tomb. The wall is covered with images from the first hour of the Book of the Amduat. Different baboons, divided in squares, covered the wall.

Editor from Mars. Inside Pharaoh Tutankhamun´s tomb. Recovered from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Inside_Pharaoh_Tutankhamun%27s_tomb,_18th_dynasty.jpg

Amduat: Not a big part of Tut’s Tomb

The fact that they chose this very confusing funerary book as central to the Immersive Tut experience surprised us. It is not an important part of Tut’s tomb. Yes, a part of this book is indeed represented on one of the four painted burial chamber walls, but only the first hour, (see image above).  What’s more, the show’s creative visuals more closely reflect the book of the Amduat from the tomb of King Thutmose III (100 years older than Tutankhamun) – the only tomb where this afterlife book is complete on the walls.

Image of the Book of the Amduat of the tomb of Tuthmose III. The image is divided in three rows. The first and third ones are covered with people organized in al single line. In the middle, a boat full of people appears next to a snake and another line of people.

Penn Museum. The book of the Amduat. Recovered from https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/the-rebirth-of-the-sun/

In fact, the show projects lots of images and artifacts unrelated to Tut’s tomb – from the time of other kings and queens. Are they Egyptian? Yes. Beautiful and magical? Certainly. But the fact that they all fall under the banner of “Tutankhamun” is a tad misleading; the spectator may leave the show with misleading and incorrect information.

Creating hybrid creatures – an introductory game.

Upon entering the exhibition, you are invited to play an interactive game where you can create different hybrid figures through the movement of your own body. Here is the link to a video on our YouTube Channel of Laura playing this fun game: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/LVibGiS3COQ.

Image from the interactive game of Immersive Tut at the entry. It consists of a pillar with a screen in the middle where you can play the game.

Virginia Martos Armetneros. Hybrid Figures.

The inspiration for this game probably came from the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt that are often represented in a hybrid form, usually with the head of an animal and a human body. However, as you can see in the video, here everything is transformed (your legs, torso, arms, head…etc), and not with animal and human parts, but with different statues and reliefs from Ancient Egypt. A bit abstract  – but fun for the kids.

Image of the god Khepri with the head of a scarab and a human body.

Ancient Egypt Wiki. God Khepri. Recovered from https://ancientegypt.fandom.com/wiki/Khepri

Informative panels introduce Ancient Egyptian Culture

As you enter the experience, standing panels briefly and vividly introduce different concepts within the culture of Ancient Egypt: including mummification, Egyptian deities, and the roles of the ancient Egyptian kings and queens. It’s a general introduction to the world of Ancient Egypt using some nice ancient Egyptian images and motifs that brings context to the show.

The second room provides more in-depth display panels on Tut, the discovery, and the tomb. There is a helpful timeline – and replica paintings from Tut’s tomb with information on the young king’s life.

Image from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The image represent King Tut dead and around different priest and priestesses who prepare his body for the journey to the Afterlife he is about to start.

News Artnet. Wall painting from the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Recovered from https://news.artnet.com/art-world/egypt-confirms-king-tuts-tomb-likely-holds-secret-chambers-336268

Recreation from Immersive Tut of one of the sections of the previous wall painting of the tomb of King Tutankhamun.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Recreation of one of the wall paintings from the tomb of King Tutankhamun at Immersive Tut.

Replica of Tutankhamun’s Mummy and second coffin

The exhibit does give you an opportunity to come face to face with Tut himself.  There is an excellent replica, (granted by the Egyptian government) of both the second coffin (with its unique rishi design) and the mummy of Tutankhamun itself. Interesting fact: neither the mummy nor the mask of Tutankhamun will ever leave Egypt again. So replicas will be the way of the future to engage the public in Egyptian history for world museums.

Recreation of King Tutankhamun´s mummy at Immersive Tut.

Laura Ranieri Roy. Recreation of King Tutankhamun´s mummy at Immersive Tut.

Recreation of King Tutankhamun´s mask at Immersive Tut.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Recreation of King Tutankhamun´s mask at Immersive Tut.

The cinematic experience itself

Finally, the moment was at hand: the audiovisual immersive spectacle. Here is what it’s like: Music begins, images appear projected on the walls and floor- and you are suddenly within a sacred sanctuary. Egyptian objects from all periods of Egyptian history come into view on the walls.

Laura Ranieri Roy at Immersive Tut. The walls are covered with what seems to be the wall of a temple with different hieroglpyhs written on it.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Laura at Immersive Tut.

As soon as we entered, we were surprised that what we were stepping on was not a common floor, but sand (a clever trick with bulky carpets). This small detail lends powerfully to the atmosphere and transports you to the desert.

Then, the book of the Amduat of Thutmose III appears on the walls A theatrical voice begins to narrate how Tutankhamun has passed away and the future of Egypt depends on the success of his journey to the afterlife.

For the next thirty minutes, you accompany Tutankhamun on his journey with Re to the afterlife. Everything is beautiful and very eye-catching (the work of an inspired creative team in Mexico), a perfect experience on a cinematic level, even if more abstract and conceptual, than a historic-based learning experience. And really …. not very specific to Tut and his special tomb.

Image of the immersive spectacle of Immersive Tut. In the wall, the statue of a king appears.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Immersive Tut.

Image of Immersive Tut. A statue of the goddesses Hathor appears underwater.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Immersive Tut.

Image of Immersive Tut with the other media press that attended the event.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Immersive Tut.

Image from Immersive Tut. The boat in which Re and Tutankhamun will be travelling in their journey to the Afterlife appears on the wall.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Immersive Tut.

The dramatic narration is particularly good – and lends dramatic appeal. Without it, the experience would be far less powerful. The aim is to inspire and inform the visitor about Ancient Egypt’s afterlife beliefs. Now, the question is: does it work?

Immersive Tut is an immersive experience that has all the dazzling effects, visuals, and sounds that enlivened other shows Lighthouse Artspace like Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo. It is visually inspiring. uplifting – and otherworldly.

The show, however, might have benefited from more Egyptology guidance and oversight. The whirlwind journey through these loosely-accurate, artistically interpreted hours of the night while cosmic, serve to generate awe, rather than truly deepen understanding.

Also, more of a direct connection to the objects, events and history around Tutankhamun, and the discovery of the tomb by Howard Carter… would have been nice. Especially considering the show name.

Image of Immersive Tut. A garden with different ancient Egyptian statues appears on the wall.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Immersive Tut.

Easier to create an afterlife journey than a Tut tomb discovery experience

The reality is this. There are lots of restrictions and hefty costs around copyrights, travelling objects and replicas. Far easier to create a fantastic world of the afterlife than to attain the legal ok to reproduce Tut’s tomb and an accurate and approved experience of his treasures. A team of artists interpreting the journey was certainly a more feasible choice for the Lighthouse folks.

Ouzounion himself confirmed how this show does not want to focus on the treasures or tomb of Tutankhamun, but to shine a light on the spirituality and religion of Ancient Egypt. Certainly, that journey was enthralling – if not accurately – evoked.

Image from Immersive Tut. On the wall appears a wall with an ancient egyptian statue and some texts that cannot be read.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Immersive Tut where the text cannot be read.

All that said, there is no doubt the team faithfully incorporated numerous images of real Ancient Egyptian statues, paintings, and monuments. Most of them appear vividly in the presentation – but often the context does not make much sense. For example, at the very end, a sphinx avenue appears – inside a temple. (when these avenues generally line the road to the temple and are never inside. Kind of like a highway in a department store, to use a modern example. And why do we end with the pyramids – built 1000 years before Tut lived?

Image from Immersive Tut. A parade of spinxes covered appears on the wall.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Immersive Tut.

Avenue of Sphinxes, and the Temple of Amun entrance, Luxor, Ancient Thebes, Egypt.

Agostini. Avenue of Sphinxes, and the Temple of Amun entrance, Luxor, Ancient Thebes, Egypt. Recovered from https://abcnews.go.com/International/egypt-open-3000-year-avenue-sphinxes-glitzy-ceremony/story?id=81354079

In short, more historic accuracy would have made this show more powerful, rich and extraordinary in its impact.

Cairo’s 2021 Mummy Parade: an example of a great immersive Egypt show for all

It is possible to create a spectacle that is both visually arresting, appealing to the public, and informative too. Take the Golden Mummies parade in Cairo in Spring 2021. Goddesses bearing light. Great Kings (their mummies) being transported in special winged vehicles to their new museum home. Accurate costumes and Egyptian songs. This was the perfect example of how modern artists, performers, theatrical producers and Egyptologists can come together and teach the world about this ancient civilization.

A convoy of vehicles transporting royal mummies in Cairo, Egypt. Each mummy was transported in its own special wagon.

DW Made for minds. A convoy of vehicles transporting royal mummies in Cairo, Egypt. Each mummy was transported in its own special wagon. Recovered from https://www.dw.com/en/golden-parade-mummified-pharaohs-moved-to-new-cairo-home/a-57094353

So the verdict on Immersive Tut? Visually exciting. Creative. And a great live experience after the isolation of COVID. But ultimately it is a show with the wrong title. Sure it’s the anniversary of the tomb discovery this year, but the exhibit has little to do with Tutankhamun and even less to do with the discovery of his tomb. Still Immersive Amduat I am sure would sell less tickets!

Come for the ride… but leave your textbooks (and analytic mind) at home!

Image of Immersive Tut. On the wall, a shrine for Amun-Ra with a statue inside appears.

Virginia Martos Armenteros. Immersive Tut.

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