Berlin-based Scottish artist Andrew Gilbert, known across Europe for his work on Colonial British Military History, visited the Battlefield Monument and Museum of Austerlitz, located near modern-day Brno (Czech Republic) in April 2010 as a Goethe Institute Artist in Residence in Prague. One year later, he brings the Austerlitz Museum, its flags, its faded glory, its sound-effects and its European Military Fetish Sculptures to Amsterdam.
Austerlitz: Napoleon's greatest victory, destroying the army of the Austrian-Russian Alliance, forever breaking the Austrian Empire and, it is said, causing the death of the British Prime Minister Pitt, who died of a heart attack shortly after receiving news of the French Victory. In the aftermath of the defeat, the Russian Czar Alexander I said, "We are babies in the hands of a giant". Meanwhile, the Austrian Emperor Francis I is said to have died his wig black and nailed a cabbage to his head in memory of the defeat.
Andrew Gilbert aims to evoke the atmosphere of a European Military Museum through an installation and drawings, and to combine this atmosphere with that of an Ethnological Museum. The Emperor Napoleon will appear as a primitive idol - insane African Dictator - Shaka Napoleon, referring to the great Zulu King, Shaka Zulu. Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery of the three powers of Europe will appear as a sculpture and museum installation with painted landscape backdrops as seen in contemporary military and ethnographic museums, both places known for their effected and emotive psychological atmospheres.
The drawings will range from large-scale historical battle scenes to simple uniform studies and scenes of camp life. Also shown will be drawings referring to the tradition of satirical political cartoons and caricatures of the 19th century, film posters and the historical genre of portraiture (where the great leaders of European Empires will appear as deranged dictators wearing African ceremonial masks, further adding to ethnographic atmosphere and raising the idea of the savagery of European history and the barbarism of those claiming to be 'civilised').
Today a motorway cuts across the Battlefield of Austerlitz. The Museum lacks funds and is hardly visited. Andrew Gilbert takes pleasure in exploring the destruction of those Empires once great, now barely remembered or noticed, as today great empires of civilisation rise and one day will fall and be forgotten; leaving blood-drenched soil for vegetables to grow over the graves of the dead and supermarkets to be built.
While preparing his Ethnographic Military Museum, Andrew Gilbert used potatoes purchased from such supermarkets as models for the eyes of the three great Emperors. He cooked these potatoes and ate them in a soup. Through this act of cannibalism he first devoured their power, and next was able to see exactly what the leaders of the armies saw on the 2nd of December 1805. It was at this point that Shaka Napoleon commanded him to build a museum to commemorate this great Victory. He said: "Andrew you must build a Monument to commemorate this great Victory!"
A final connection to Napoleon and the Anglo Zulu War - the son of Napoleon III, Crown Prince Louis, visited British forces in South Africa in 1879 and was killed by Zulu Infantry, thus ending the dynasty of Napoleon and leading Disraeli, then British Prime Minister, to say:
"Who are these Zulus, who are these remarkable people who defeat our generals, convert our bishops and who on this day have put an end to a great dynasty?"
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