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Indepth Arts News:

"EXODUS: between promise and fulfilment"
2003-06-22 until 2003-08-03
Kettle's Yard Gallery, University of Cambridge
Cambridge, , UK United Kingdom

In 1869 a small survey team of Royal Engineers led by Captain Wilson and Captain Palmer and including the photographer Sgt. James McDonald, began a five month expedition into the Sinai desert - the region where Moses and his followers wandered for forty years in search of the Promised Land. Their goal, under the auspices of the military, was to produce accurate maps and survey photographs of the region. In particular: "that there is a great need to carry out such a survey must be manifest to all students of Old Testament history; among the most important and interesting questions which are subjects of inquiry are the locations of the Passage of the Red Sea, the Route and Encampments of the Israelites, and the identification of the Mountain of the Law-Giving."

Photographs from the Ordnance Survey of the Peninsula of Sinai 1869 by Sgt. James McDonald (1822-1885)

David Austen
Vija Celmins
Ian Davenport
Helmut Federle
Callum Innes
John McCracken
John Zurier

Sgt.McDonald returned with over a hundred albumen print plates. They record the purported sites of the Burning Bush and Ten Commandments and include images of the large tablets or stele’s with Egyptian inscriptions that lay strewn across the area and several panoramas showing the vertiginous scale and bleakness of the barren desert landscape. Despite their historical, factual function, Sgt McDonald’s photographs are full of paradoxes: they represent a land of ‘recorded visions’, a space where heaven and earth meet and the dynamic that exists between the immediate and the remote -the promise and its fulfilment- is brought to bear on the field of representation. ‘Exodus’ will include thirty of these photographs and the work of seven contemporary artists. The artists included here are not, however, necessarily acknowledging Sgt. McDonald’s work; nor, giving their widely divergent working practices, were they expected to. They were chosen because of certain shared affinities with these photographs: an interest, for example, in the tension between the abstractions of space and the specifities of place; the physical act of delineating boundries - whether pictorial or literal; and, crucially, the manner in which they reconceptualise Sgt. McDonald’s depictions of a fluctuating site of representation and the space between the promise of representation and its fulfilment.

Sgt. James McDonald
Camp in Wadi Ed Deir, 1868

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