In 1963, Paul Thek travelled to the Cappuccini catacombs of Palermo, where the mummification and display of human remains has been taking place for centuries. On this visit, he describes the 'corpses decorating the walls, and the corridors…filled with windowed coffins,’ remarking that ‘it delighted me that bodies could be used to decorate a room, like flowers.’ For Thek, the art-object, like the Catholic relic, acts as an intermediary between the profane corporeal world and the divine realm that it gestures toward. Taking Thek’s ‘delight’ at the ritualised transformation of bodily matter into embellishment as a starting point, Material Rites brings together works and practices that explore the blurred lines between art-object and relic. Each of the works on display in Material Rites presents an engagement with the dissolution of boundaries between person and object, tangible and intangible, desecration and devotion, finding mythical power in ‘dead’ material.
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