Exhibition Review: A Day in Pompeii
A bit wobbly on the blogging schedule this week!
I went to see A Day in Pompeii at the WA Museum a few weeks ago now and wanted to write a review but have found it hard to know where to start and what to say. It has wrapped up in Perth now, so there is no chance to see it here. Just have to go to Italy now, I suppose! I have had some thoughts on it all, though, so here is my review…of sorts.
The WA Museum opened late on Friday nights towards the end of the run for this exhibition and that’s when I went and it was an awesome time to go. Very sophisticated (not much that that here!). It felt more like an event than it would have going during the day. Plus, there was cool lava flowing down the steps (done with lights) to see! It was just enormously pleasant to leave the exhibition, full of the wonder of it, and have an evening ahead of you – naturally a more sedate time – in which to ponder what you’d just seen. WA Museum should do this more.
As for the actual exhibition? It was professionally put together, very interesting and varied. I found the space a little weird – cramped maybe – and the flow was not immediately obvious. This isn’t necessarily an issue – some people like wandering. I worry I’m missing something! But, the items were incredible. Incredible that they travelled too and it was a privilege to see them. I listened to a talk yesterday about the history of the WA Museum buildings and this kind of exhibition – a classic – seemed to me to fit perfectly into the original stated mission of the museum – to educate colonials. I’ve never been to Italy, so I include myself in that bunch.
Then there were the body casts.
These are not, as much as they may seem to be, bodies. On discovering ‘voids’ in the ash and realising they were where people and animals had died, plaster was used to fill up the void (thereby destroying it) and create a cast of the shape. They are incredible things to look at as it allows us to imagine individual death and suffering in a very visual way. Seeing them lying before you is a little strange. Rationally I know they are not bodies, but boy do they look like them. Which is why, I guess, they were partitioned off from the rest of the exhibition.
The most surprising thing about this exhibition was learning that not very many people died in relation to the population of the town and that lava wasn’t flowing down the streets. I guess I haven’t really thought about Pompeii since I learned about it in primary school at which time I got the impression that lava covered the town, killing everyone (because it was too sudden to escape from) and preserving everything as a ‘snapshot’. I went to the exhibition with my best friend and she had exactly the same knowledge – both of us no doubt taught by teachers who hadn’t been to Pompeii using the exact same 1980s text book! The events of those days and nights were so well explained by the 3D film (even though I have a general hatred of 3D films) and the timeline that was in the exhibition. I came out with a much better understanding of not only Pompeii’s story but of volcanoes! Bonus!
I loved, as many people do, the random everyday items, the banality of the artefacts and, if you really think about it, the astonishing incredible-ness of the fact that these things have survived.
So, because I can’t tell you to go to the exhibition, I guess I should just encourage everyone to go to Pompeii. I certainly will.