Friday, November 09, 2007

Pompeii - a prototype ground zero

Shelley Hales is a lecturer in Art and Visual Culture, in the Department of Classics and Ancient History. Dry stuff, you might imagine. On the contrary, Hales is currently researching the enormous impact Pompeii has had on popular culture since its rediscovery in 1748.

. . . .

In order to further explore modern reactions to the remains of Pompeii, Hales devised the Casts Project, a national competition for school children, in which students were shown images of the body casts and asked: Does Pompeii matter today? Can we have any connection with the victims of Vesuvius? How should we treat their remains? Should we encourage sentimental connection or look on as objective, scientific observers? As an illustration of Pompeii’s enduring appeal, she was inundated with over 200 entries, including stories, poems, essays, models, paintings, casts, plays, songs and broadcasts. The winning entries will be displayed at a conference Hales is holding later this year.

Called Ruins and Reconstructions: Pompeii in the Popular Imagination, the conference brings together academics and policy-makers with artists who have made use of the theme of Pompeii, such as the novelists Robert Harris and Lindsey Davis, and the artist Victor Burgin.

Ironically, whilst the recent surge of popular interest in Pompeii has seen the city find a wider audience than ever before, the site itself has reached a critical state of decay, and the key players are seriously considering drastic action, including closing large parts of the site to the public and possibly even reburying it. Through the conference Hales is hoping to show the policy-makers of this World Heritage Site how Pompeii continues to be a major source of inspiration to western imaginations, and that it represents far more than just an expensive ruin.