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Supermarket of the Dead


Fire offerings in China and the Cult of Globalised Consumption. Proposition III.

One of the most ancient forms of Chinese spirituality proves to be a living tradition, still widely practised everywhere in Chinese culture. Paper replicas of money and goods are ritually burned as offerings to win the favour of ancestors, gods and spirits.

These paper models have recently undergone a kind of transformation, in which imitations of traditional objects have been superseded by replicas of consumer goods found in western shopping habits. An alternative world made of paper, encompassing all today’s globalised brand consumption fetishes, Gucci bags, Prada shoes, mobile phones, Apple computers and even Heineken beer cans and life-size cars, is committed to the flames as a tribute to the ancestors.

A Supermarket of the Dead installed on the Reception Floor of the Dresden Residenzschloss displays a mountain of these strangely familiar yet somehow alien goods. This gives rise to significant insights: it reveals the compulsive effects worldwide of the West's worship of brand names and designer labels. The speed with which Chinese society has aligned itself with a global system of needs can be discerned and linked to a cult which is almost two thousand years old. One becomes aware too of the quasi-religious fetishism inherent in the consumption of branded products, whose benefits for the consumer lie not in their use but in participation in a system of meanings – and hence a theurgic relationship. Burnt offerings and brand status are united by the logic of representational magic, in which purposes are fulfilled vicariously through the image.


Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
(Dresden State Art Collections)
Reception Floor of the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace)

Title of the Exhibition:
Supermarket of the Dead. Fire offerings in China and the Cult of Globalised Consumption. Proposition III.
Period of Time:
March 14 to May 10, 2015
Installed Projection Systems :
14 x Derksen PHOS mini, projecting the annotations

Wolfgang Scheppe
Exhibition Design:
Wolfgang Scheppe, Sara Codutti
Klinkenbusch + Kunze
Lighting Design:
Paul Göschel

Photo Credits:
#01: © SKD, Foto: Adrian Sauer
#02, #03: © SKD, Photos: SKD