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Nancy Burson

Blue Marble Simulacrum, 2014

on reverse: an interview with Nancy Burson by Romke Hoogwaerts.

A conversation with photographer and pioneer of facial recognition software Nancy Burson on the pairing of art and technology, the history of an every-present hue, and Blue Marble Simulacrum. With photographs by Maggie Shannon. Read our interview here. Below is an extract.

RFP When we first spoke about this image, Blue Marble Simulacrum, you brought up the Mayan history to this pigment.

NB The Mayans would use blue paint to completely cover their victims before they sacrificed them. Then they’d kill them and throw them down a well [editor’s note: in fact, it was a natural sinkhole known as the Sacred Cenote]. It was very violent. The well was found about a decade ago and there was a lot of blue paint [in a layer that was 14 feet deep] and a lot of bones. What’s interesting about the Mayan blue is that it survived better than any other color used in the Mayan ceramics. Scientists never figured out why the blue is as vivid and long lasting. They know that it was apparently forged at a higher heat than a fire, and they never figured out how the heat got so hot. It’s the mystery and miraculous quality of why it’s endured that’s interesting to me.

RFP It’s such a cool color, in terms of temperature. What I find so fascinating about that Mayan history is that... I assumed that in all cultures that violence or pain or suffering was represented by the color red, as well as love, of course. It seems that for the Mayans, blue was more representative of that. Is that right?

NB Yes. From my point of view, over the years, what I learned was that, green is supposed to be healing, red is supposed to be action and energy, and blue is supposed to be calming. But there are exceptions.  

RFP So why do you think the Mayans used blue to paint their victims?

NB Chac, their rain god was portrayed as blue, and he was the overseer responsible for human sacrifice. So perhaps the coating of blue paint on their victims was what they felt to be the most appealing to Chac.