In attendance at the official presentation was the Italian Consul General in Perth David Balloni, accompanied by the Italian delegation including Expona CEO Alex Susanna and the Contemporanea Progetti team: CEO Eugenio Martera, architect Manuela Montacci and project coordinator Federica Montani.
Ms Montani directs the exhibitions and took the time to explain to us what goes on behind the scenes of a show which has already had resounding success in Hong Kong last year and in Sydney earlier this year.
In fact, in Sydney, ‘Escape from Pompeii’ is the Australian Maritime Museum’s most visited exhibition to date, while the venue was the city’s most visited museum between March and September – second only to Taronga Zoo.
Specialising in exhibition projects across the world, Contemporanea Progetti this year fostered a strong collaboration with Australia and has also produced an exhibition on gladiators, showing in Brisbane.
Every project is born and evolves in a unique manner.
In the case of ‘Escape from Pompeii’, the idea came to Ms Montani while she was on holiday in Sicily and went diving near the Egadi Islands.
An important theme in the exhibition and relevant to both Australian museums, underwater archaeology is a relatively young discipline which arose in the mid-1900s.
According to Ms Montani, this field is continually developing thanks to new detection technologies, but also one which still presents certain challenges.
“The Mediterranean Sea, particularly off the Italian coast, is extremely rich,” Ms Montani explained.
“We’re talking about thousands of remains still to be discovered, recovered and studied.”
This work, which is still very much under way, has already captivated Australian visitors.
The exhibition depicts the Roman Empire’s power far beyond the land: in fact, the empire was able to expand thanks to the dominance that Rome imposed at sea.
Within the “macrohistory” lies an intriguing episode of “microhistory”: the tragedy of Pompeii.
One of the most striking sections of the exhibition is that which displays the original body casts of Romans who died amid its fury.
The tragic effect of the remains is emphasised by lighting and graphics which differ from the rest of the exhibition.
Behind the final product admired by visitors is a long preparation process, which Ms Montani describes as exciting but not without its challenges.
After the initial conceptualisation comes the research phase, which can last between six and eight months; then, a draft of the exhibition is circulated among the museums which collaborate with Contemporanea Progetti.
In the case of ‘Escape from Pompeii’, Ms Montani and her team worked with Italian museums for almost 18 months to bring to life the exhibition on display in Fremantle today.
Every detail must be approved by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, and the Italian bureaucratic system can take a long time to authorise temporary exports.
Objects and artworks are generally chosen in collaboration with curators and/or a scientific committee (a group of experts on the subject).
Then the graphics and fitting out are organised, the latter being adapted to the museum which will show the exhibition.
The logistics are the most delicate phase of the preparation and are often entrusted to companies specialising in fine arts.
In the case of this particular exhibition, Ms Montani also worked closely with local correspondents to simplify customs procedures (which are long and complex in Australia).
Once the objects are carefully packed in double-walled crates with special shock-absorbing material, numerous professionals step in: the project manager; a technician specialised in the handling of the objects; and the courier, or the restorers of Italian lending museums who supervise transportation and intervene if an object suffers a minor trauma during the journey.
The objects for ‘Escape from Pompeii’ were transported by land from Sydney to Fremantle over the course of four days and from now until next year, they will be on display for visitors to WA with a passion for history and art.