Mercedes Kemp
100:UnEarth Artistic Lead/Writer/Researcher

The World of the Dead

So we follow our hero, Orpheus, and his companions, Sergeant Hermes and Private Ari, on his fool’s journey into the Underworld searching for his dead wife. We arrive at the gates. This is the border between the worlds. The look of the place is reminiscent of the checkpoints we experienced when we were working in the West Bank, the Occupied Territories of Palestine. A place that left a deep mark on us. We arrive from the world of 1918 to a place where all times co-exist and we are reminded, again, that WW1 was not the war to end all wars.
This strange border post is staffed by angels of death. There is a tannoy system that gives direction. We soon realise that this is one of many gates into the world below. We hear instructions:
Cleaning operators to the river of Lethe, I repeat to the river of Lethe. Large spillage of memories at Lethe.

Staff announcement, staff announcement. Border operators to gate 35 D . A consignment of souls from Fallujah await processing. Numbers confirmed at 1,251.

Staff announcement, this is a staff announcement. A crew of experienced border operators required to attend at gate 72C where a large consignment of Newly Dead from Eastern Ghouta, estimated at 966 are waiting to be welcomed into the underworld.

Customer announcement, this is a customer announcement. A memory has been handed in to the Halls of Regrets. If you have lost your memory, please report to the Halls of Regrets.

Staff announcement, staff announcement. Border operators to gate 12 A. A steady arrival of souls from Gaza, numbers unconfirmed.

Staff announcement, this is a staff announcement. The escalator to Elysium is out of order. Please use the stairs to Elysium.

Staff announcement. Border operators to gate 16A. 25,000 souls from Dresden await processing.

Staff announcement. Staff announcement. Border operators to gate 48C. 330 souls from Mogadishu await processing.

And many, many more.

We become aware that all the dead from all wars are arriving at this place. And the numbers are genuine. But there is another point we want to make. The numbers of the dead entering the underworld in more recent conflicts are all civilians. Because this is what war has become. Total war, where civilian populations are the first victim.

Here we encounter Hades, Lord of the Underworld. He’s capricious, irascible, his moods are unpredictable. His authority is uncontested in his domains. But he finds Orpheus amusing and we are allowed in. And the first thing we encounter as we enter is a field hospital where Hades and his entourage are operating on a newly dead inmate. Greek mythology tells us that in the forecourt of the palace of Hades and Persephone sit the three judges of the Underworld: Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aeacus. They weigh the hearts of the dead against a feather. Only those with the lightest hearts can make it to the Elysian Fields. In our underworld Hades is performing surgery to extract the heart and examine its contents. Hades enters the operating theatre wearing a bloody gown with a smiley face on it. A veteran from the Falklands War told me about the surreal field hospitals where surgeons and medics crazed with exhaustion operated wearing gowns with smileys on them. A direct reference, then. The heart is read on a video screen. A life condensed. A baby is born who grows into a little girl and then a young woman. All seems normal until we start seeing scenes of soldiers patrolling destroyed streets, civilian populations on the move, children starving, massive explosions. And we start to see how the horrors of war might have tarnished this heart that started so fresh and innocent.

And there are many, many more rooms in this underworld.

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