In September of 2016 we, Katha Seidman (KS) and Laurie Kaplowitz (LK), will exhibit an installation titled “Once There Was A House”, at the South Shore Art Center, Cohasett, MA. Our installation will be based on the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, Italy.
FIRST, A BRIEF HISTORY…
Early in the afternoon of August 24, 79 CE, the seventeen-year-old Pliny the Younger watched Mount Vesuvius explode from across the Gulf of Naples at Misenum. Twenty-nine hours later, buried under as much as seventy-five meters of ash and mudslide, the town of Pompeii and its surrounding suburbs had virtually disappeared.
Discovered in the 1909, the Villa of the Mysteries is situated on the outskirts of Pompeii. Having sustained only minor damage, the majority of the frescos in this elaborately decorated country villa and working farmhouse remain intact.
The mysteries that gave the Villa its name are depicted on the walls of a triclinium (dining room). Painted about a hundred years before Vesuvius’ eruption, this frieze is generally thought to portray the secret initiation rites of the Cult of Dionysus.
NEXT, A WORD ABOUT THE ROMAN DOMUS (HOUSE)…
The Roman domus functioned on three levels – as a commercial space, a religious space, and a domestic space. Roman men often conducted business out of their domus from a home office known as the tablinum. Each domus contained a lararium, or shrine which was where offerings were left for the household gods (the Lares), spirits of the ancestors, and spirits of the underworld. Wall paintings and mosaics further enhanced these domestic altars and became a way of creating a daily sanctuary for ancestors and gods.
AND SO, A VIEW THROUGH A WORMHOLE…
Our installation will encapsulate a day in the life of a culture suspended in the distant past and viewed from a distant beyond. Visitors to the extensively excavated and restored city of Pompeii experience the reality of stopped time. Throughout the excavations a palpable sense remains that the people who once lived in these houses still exist just beyond the door. By creating a place where time and memory have suddenly stopped we hope to generate layers of recurring meaning that grant insight into our present.
WE COMPOSED A NARRATIVE TO ELUCIDATE OUR CONCEPT…
Once there was a house. In many ways this was an ordinary house. People slept and ate, were born and died in its rooms. People came and went, performing daily chores and rituals. Over time, young people and old, men and women, girls and boys – all lived there.
As every family does, this house contained domestic habits and traditions that were handed down to the current occupants from parents and grandparents and ancestors further back, and would certainly be passed along to progeny to come. These traditions and customs were reflected in the people’s clothing and their personal belongings; objects they used in their daily lives; what they ate and drank; and in their paintings and other kinds of decoration.
Deep inside this house was a red room. It was a dining room, a place where the whole family gathered to share meals, secrets, and especially, celebrate what they honored and most gravely feared.
One day, time stops. The family’s existence ends in a moment. Every action in the house halts, suspended.
Nothing disturbs the house. Outside, life continues to change and transform, repeating cycles of decay and renewal. Over time, even the possibility of such a house is forgotten. Then one day someone passes by and, crossing through an unexpected opening, finds everything in the red room unchanged from that moment it all ended.
To the passerby some things are very familiar, and yet some things are mysterious, not readily recognized or identified. Their function can only be determined by conjecture, their meaning only surmised.