Supermarket of the Dead

Fire offerings in China and the Cult of Globalised Consumption

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paper models have recently undergone a kind of transformation, in which imitations of traditional objects have been superseded by replicas of consumer goods found in Western shopping habits.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 or 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 (Royal Palace) 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 2000 years old.

This extensive three-volume publication is created on the occasion of the exhibition Supermarket of the Dead by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden at Dresden Residenzschlos, 14 March – 10 May 2015.

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