Relics from the Valley of the Kings – by way of Hollywood – come to Solstice Arts Centre, Navan

Last year, a number of news sites reported the discovery by archaeologists of a giant sphinx head unearthed from the sand dunes on the coast of central California. Alas, this was not some transposition from the Valley of the Kings, but part of the giant film set that had been built for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 Hollywood blockbuster The Ten Commandments. Once shooting was completed, and as a money-saving gesture, DeMille ordered the entire set to be buried in situ: a site of excess turned hidden dumping ground, until its re-emergence several decades later. Can a replica ever hope to acquire the material and symbolic value traditionally reserved for the original on which it is based? And how is this value conferred? This is one among many questions put forth by Patrick Hough across the videos and objects that make up his first institutional show in Ireland, which, when taken together, broach the uncertain and slippery nature of the relationship that binds reality to history and to fiction.

In False Starts (2014), from which the exhibition borrows its name, an archival image of Howard Carter from 1924 shows the archaeologist peering through the open door of Tutankhamun’s tomb. As argued in the accompanying audio text, compiled by philosopher Alexander García Düttmann, the composition and lighting of the black and white photograph turn it from documentation of a historical moment to a theatrical image that would not be amiss on (you guessed it) a DeMille studio epic. Does the real ever return, it asks. And, if it does, then what role does the fake – or, in other words, its representation – have to play?