I’ve just got back from leading a field trip to Pompeii. A huge amount of money has been poured into the promotion and protection of the Campanian sites in the last few years and it was very interesting to see the results beginning to come to fruition. Virtual technology is increasingly being touted as a way of bringing the sites to life: trialling GPS software, for example, that will allow visitors to see virtual reconstructions of the building as they enter its ruins. Herculaneum has been the first to benefit from fully operational vr with the opening of the Museo Archeologico Virtuale (MAV) which I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries but have not had the chance to visit until now. We LOVED MAV. The coherence of the experience has clearly been carefully thought through – the floor and walls of the first small room respond to visitors’ movements – the accompanying info sheet you are given explains that this is to free visitors from their bodies – to become spirit- it’s a bit cranky, I guess, but it does reflect an attempt both to familiarise visitors with the ways they can interact with the virtual exhibits and to give an expression to the experience of living in a ‘spirit’/virtual world. I make that link deliberately because a little later, in a corridor, one of us noticed a figure walking past and then, as we watched, more ‘ghosts’ paraded around the walls. Other exhibits simulate the eruption but the majority of the museum is given over to vrs of domestic space, some projected as life size and – here’s an issue which reminds me of our project – often brought alive by the hint of human life – a candle light that travels along a row of upstairs windows.

Visiting the Virtual House of the Faun

Visiting the Virtual House of the Faun

What I really liked about MAV though was the way it played with the layers of ‘Pompeian’ history – acknowledging, just like our project does, the impact of the Victorian imagination on our vision of Pompeii. The brothel sequence involves a vr of the Pompeian streets at night – the camera (as your eyes) skulks along the dark alley towards the brothel – ‘you’ dare to open a door and who is there waiting for you but a naked woman with strategic, waving ostrich fan – a fantasy ‘Roman’ woman of the nineteenth century¬† from Alma-Tadema’s painting, In the Tepidarium. These kinds of links were played with in the bath sequence too – while your real feet paddle in ‘the water’ of the pool (your movements trigger a splash sound as in our atrium), by waving your arm over the steamed up ‘window’ in front of you, you wipe away the steam to see another similarly nineteenth century take on Roman women bathing.

Of course, we did go to ‘real sites’ too – revisiting the Macellum (market) in Pompeii allowed be to take photos of the frescoes, still in situ, that inspired the back wall of the Pompeii Court in the Crystal Palace and in the Museo Nazionale in Naples I photographed the series of dancing figures that are featured throughout our model. I had forgotten how tiny they are – given that the guidebooks insist that the paintings in the Court were all true to scale, we may have to shrink them in the model. Nic will be pleased!! i will load my photographs onto the web pages accessible through the HUD.


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