Room guide: The statue as stand-in

Allen Jones, ‘Chair’ 1969
Allen Jones
Chair 1969
© Allen Jones

This ending of the socially destructive practices of human and animal sacrifice, burial of precious goods and the replacement of them by sculptural stand-ins, probably came from necessity, yet it established the idea of sympathetic magic, that the image of something could function analogously to the thing itself.

The image was a tool, useful but dispensable, a kind of labour-saving device. The Egyptian dead, their bodies mummified to ensure their physical presence in the afterlife, had psychically to split themselves in order to deal with this fact – a premonition, perhaps, of the current notion of a non-pathological, schizophrenic psychology.

Physical presence in the after life also meant that physical labour was expected. Image magic was used to escape this commitment. A small statue called an ushabti figure was buried with the dead. The purpose of this figure was to do your labour for you; when you were called upon to work, the ushabti answered. A kind of double was created, a shadow of yourself bound to perpetual slavery. All popular sculpture – from votive sculpture, which is a representation of the person making sacrifice before a god, to the most mundane worker replacement, like the scarecrow or shop-window mannequin – has this plebeian quality.