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amra brooks




January 1998.

TJ Wilcox is a New York artist who received his MFA from Art Center in Pasadena, California. The project printed within these pages is entitled the love letter (Joe Mamanitzberg, Sarah Gavlak, Lisa Kirk, Martin Keehn). This work references Fragonards' the love letter which Wilcox has admired for some time. This series of photographs was a collaboration with four people who he felt would share his enthusiasm for the Fragonard original. Almost all the photos share the common elements taken from the original, being the window, the letter, the dog, and the flowers, but each photo' s composition was determined by the subject and his or her sense of how to recreate Fragonard' s scenario.

TJ Wilcox opened Gavin Brown' s new Chelsea space with his film entitled The Death and Burial of the First Emperor of China in October 1997. He is currently working on a project for the Walker Art Center entitled Stephen Tennant Homage, which opens in April.

AB: Let' s first talk about The Death And Burial of the First Emperor of China. Where did the idea to make the film come from?

TJW: The story that I ended up filming (the part of the story that I got so crazy about to begin with) was often the last sentence in articles about the First Emperor of China and tomb at Xian. It was in the '70s that they found this tomb. It was guarded by these terra-cotta warriors and now they have found ten thousand of them. But, what to me was kind of the incredible part of the story was that these warriors, these guards, are in catacombs, essentially in a moat that circles the edge of the actual tomb mound itself. And so it is such a huge, massive, you know, it' s one of the biggest archeological digs on the planet right now, but they' ve only just begun to excavate it. What I' ve loved about the story was that it was considered a myth that has been perpetuated since 220 BC (when he died). The " myth " is that he' s buried with ten thousand warriors, who were buried with him to protect his fabulous mausoleum. When they discovered these things in the '70s, they realized that maybe the story was true. The description of the tomb' s interior was always a throw-away. The end of the articles would be 'and then there remains the enigma of the emperor' s tomb,' and I was always like what enigma? What' s the rest of the story?

AB: When did they do the testing for the mercury?

TJW: In the '80s. There is this big tomb mound which conceals the mausoleum. Its ceiling is meant to depict the sky and all of the constellations of China as the astrologers understood them. The floor is supposed to be a complete map of China with all of the major mountains and valleys. All of the rivers of China, the Yang-tzu and the Yellow River flow through the mountains and the emperor' s body is supposed to be in a sarcophagus, on a boat floating down the mercury rivers. It was just this potential that this story represented--it was three things; just kind of the wow factor, and it was also that I' m always fascinated by people whose sense of themselves, or their world, or the world as they imagine the world to be, is so distinct that they want to try to fix it for all time. Like, here' s this man and he had such a secure sense of himself as the center of the world that he wanted to make that sensibility manifest, to be present in the world. I am always captivated by how people try to take something as essentially ephemeral as fantasy and try to pin it down and make it concrete, try to bring it into the world. It often results in these things that are so over the top and kind of ridiculous, but I really admire the attempt to try to pin down that kind of sense. So, there' s that. And I was also fascinated by the fact that it was a story, that true or not, was such a good story, that it was self-perpetuating in that it comes to us from such an ancient epoch, and across cultures and across this vast time and across languages that is so essentially captivating that whether or not it' s true, it' s been a powerful enough idea that it' s survived. That part of it was really incredible to me, too.