Geirthrudur Finnbogadottir Hjorvar



The re-discovered of Ancient Egypt in the 18th century gave way to an archaeology that was to transcend many layers of mediocracy pervading in Victorian sciences, and would open the door towards a full system’s analysis on language, culture, technology and administration of a whole civilization. It was Napoleon’s scientists who were to lay the foundations for modern-day Egyptology to emerge at about the same time that the emperor was denouncing phrenology as the pseudo-science it is considered to be to this day. It is not without irony that Egyptology may still be linked with mystic leanings while many assumptions of phrenology have had the habit of prevailing in society at large. This pseudo-science would wane in popularity due to the social conditions that prevailed in post-revolutionary France, but would find more fertile grown in England where its government propagated class structure and colonial expansion. And it was precisely in this atmosphere that certain portions of the scientific community who perform mental cartwheels to establish Caucasian origins of pharaohs that Napoleon’s scientists concluded to have been of African descent as a matter of self-evident deduction. (Ramses II happens to have been a particularly prominent pharaoh whose body would come to show high levels melanin when tested.)

The ‘occult’ means ‘hidden from the eye’ and is a term that can be associated with any knowledge, society or idea not easily detected by the naked eye. It is in this respect that the existence of the atom is equally the product of the occult as is fortune-telling – for the spectator their reality is merely a matter of faith. And so it was to be in the 19th century that the merger between Romanticism and scientific reason would come to be symbolized by the pyramids, obelisks, triangles and trapezoids that had formed recurring motifs within the Enlightenment at a point in history when scholars had found higher levels of math amongst men who had stranger religions then they. These are geometrical shapes that held an underlying logic in the mathematical execution of form that may explain symmetry in the ritual of reality unfolding within its restrains. As the uppermost stones of a pyramid – the pyramidion is the paradox of this particular reality. The pyramidion completes a pyramid by being the top section of the total construct while it is also a scaled version of its own whole, i.e. a miniature pyramid. The three pyramids on exhibit can be understood in these two ways: besides being scaled models of the Giza Pyramid Complex, they are also life-size models of their pyramidions. Another words: they are either models of pyramidions, or they can be understood as scaled down versions of the whole structure. The relationship between the shape of a head and the shape of a pyramid is just this; it is the contradiction of shape in the ability of proportion to transcend any attempt to summarize its content.


The Austrian composer – Joseph Haydn (1732-1809 AD), the Dutch exotic dancer – Mata Hari (1876-1917 AD), and the Egyptian Pharaoh – Ramses II (1303-1213 BC) shared a common destiny after their deaths – their bodies had all been subject to post-mortem decapitations. The head of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II had probably been dislodged by accident in the process of mummification, which can be detected by scans that show how a piece of wood is holding the mummy’s head in place. Haydn’s head, however, had been stolen by enthusiasts of phrenology – the pseudo-science of measuring skulls – shortly after his death in 1809. The thieves were thereby able to analyse the shape of his head and to measure its contours for signs of musicality. For this purpose Haydn’s head was to remain separated from his body until it both were transferred to his tomb in 1954.

As for Mata Hari, her body had found its way at the Museum of Anatomy in Paris after she had been shot for treason in 1917 during World War I. Her body was preserved for scientific study in a collection constituted by notorious criminals at a time when phrenology still made decapitation a fashionable pursuit toward those who had no one to claim their corpses. But when it came down to close the museum, it was found that the head of Mata Hari had gone missing and its whereabouts remains a mystery to this very day. The mystery is comparable with history’s inability to come to a conclusion about the mind that once animated the object. The evidence, however, suggests that the dancer had been subject to a set-up by a double agent on the French side of the spy network.

The beheadings of these corpses expresses a paradoxical fetish by those attempting to analyze the thoughts that once filled them. It is the awkward paradox of matter for a head to becomes a metaphor for thought while having simultaneously been displaced form the body it once ruled. What, after all, is there to be learned of criminality by looking at the disembodied head of spy? How does the ‘musical bump’ in Haydn’s skull explain lyrical genius? And what is it about the Pharaoh’s body that insists it remains whole when his spirit crosses the thresholds of the afterlife? The exercise of measuring, observing and embalming comes to embody thought that had been stripped of the mystical properties of consciousness and laid bare to the instruments of science in their attempts to dissect matter. But the end outcome only goes to illustrate a logic by which the device for measurement had become interchangeable with its concept of itself in the act of measuring.