2008-2010 Melbourne, Australia
Collaborators: John Fritz, John Gollings, George Michell, Jeffrey Shaw
Ancient Hampi: The Hindi Kingdom Brought to Life was an exhibition at the Immigration Museum, Melbourne, that sought to engage a mass public in phenomenological, sensorial and experiential encounters within an archaeological precinct, historic place and a living cultural landscape. Hampi is simultaneously a monumental world heritage precinct and a vibrant centre for contemporary pilgrimage where history, the natural environment, mythology, and everyday cultural practices are closely interwoven. Ancient Hampi immersed visitors in the life and culture of the Vijayanagara Empire—a fourteenth century UNESCO World Heritage site in southern India. A critical trading, political and religious centre, its capital was once one of the world’s largest and most highly developed metropolises.
This exhibition draws upon the products of the archaeological imagination and the visual languages of archaeology, photography and new media converge to reveal the ancient Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara and Hampi—a living community. Ancient Hampi was conceived to contextualise the interactive and immersive installation, PLACE - Hampi. It was designed in three distinct parts: Archaeology, Photography and PLACE - Hampi. For this iteration of the Hampi project series (see also Hampi_Live), I directed and conducted the panoramic interviews and conceived each of the design elements for the exhibition—including the Interactive Light Table, panoramic light table, and floor map. The floor map is located in the lobby outside the main gallery. Most of the didactic material is presented here, along with an image of a 1:600 scale model of Hampi built in 2006 for the PLACE project. Each of the panoramic locations in PLACE - Hampi is marked on this map, offering another way to conceptualise the content within the exhibition.
The challenge for Ancient Hampi was centred upon how to acknowledge the cultural richness of an ancient place in the absence of objects in the exhibition and in a location remote from the tangible site itself. Drawing from the extensive archive of archaeologist Dr John Fritz and art historian Dr George Michell, Ancient Hampi provides the opportunity to discover the fascinating contours of their archaeological practice. Through an Interactive Light Table and interviews, this exhibition offers a display of archaeological processes often unseen in the final rendering of scholarly and popular publications.
The Archaeology Room features three components: one is an Interactive Light Table that invites visitors to select images from 120 A5 barcoded transparencies that can be scanned to project a high resolution image and associated scholarly descriptions onto the wall of the room. The images are photographs from the 30 years of work at the site by the archaeologists and their colleagues, including site plans heavily annotated with corrections, drawings and renderings of features, and fieldwork notebooks. This interactive feature is a way to ‘rummage’ through the archive of materials that do not usually find their way onto the pristine pages of publications.
In the Archaeology Room there is also a video interview with the two archaeologists interviewed by myself and recorded in the Photography Room of the exhibition just prior to the opening. This interview was filmed using a panoramic video camera (LadyBug2®) and the resultant panoramic movie is rendered as a cylinder which slowly rotates so that the interviewer and interviewees are conjoined in conversation. This unexpected view provides an engaging alternative to traditional interview techniques. Placed with the Interactive Light Table, the footage also provides a contemporary commentary for the archival visual materials of the transparencies.
An additional element in this room is a kiosk for exploring the PLACE - Hampi website, which contains didactic information to supplement an otherwise experiential exhibition. It also contains an interactive map of the sites of the panoramic scenes in PLACE - Hampi to help anchor the viewer at Hampi.
Photography provides archaeology with a potent method of translation and representation of the visible remains of the past. Photography also gives us new ways of looking at cultural landscapes and establishes a ‘sense of place’. Drawing from the vast collection of renowned photographer John Gollings, who has documented the site for over 25 years, Ancient Hampi presents for the first time a myriad of photographic impressions from its extraordinary geography and architecture to the vibrancy of its social life. Along the dark corridor entrance to the Photography Room, a series of nocturnal black and white shots taken at the Hampi ruins are projected at a scale of 2.5 metres across. Gollings used an unusual flare technique to light the landscape up at night and capture these eerily lit scenes in the 1970s.
Inside the Photography Room, 50 images of architectural features at Hampi, each one-metre wide and photographed by Gollings, are double-hung on the walls to provide a walk-in landscape. In the middle of the room, there is a 9000 x 600 mm light table showing all the panoramic images (left sides of the stereoscopic scenes) from the PLACE - Hampi shoot together with fieldwork shots. The fieldwork images are shots I took to document the process of creating PLACE - Hampi. I also recorded camera events and pilgrimage activities at the site that supplement the light table images. Five large magnifying glasses allow visitors to scrutinise the details on these high-resolution images.
A central feature of the Ancient Hampi exhibition is PLACE - Hampi—a state-of-the-art interactive new media experience that engages visitors in a multi-sensory journey of discovery. It employs two fundamental nodes of archaeological thinking related to experience and place, where place is produced through a particular set of bodily relationships with the material world through the immediacy of experience and association, dwelling, inhabitation and travelling. In PLACE - Hampi, a dynamic matrix of technologies sets the landscape in motion so that the tangible and intangible aspects of Hampi’s cultural imaginary are intimately bought to life.
Ancient Hampi extended the hybrid space of PLACE - Hampi to further elucidate the meanings of process within the archaeological imaginary. In terms of exhibition design, it favoured an experiential rather didactic experience and signalled new forms of narrative making in museums. The design of this exhibition represents my interest in the re-socialisation of public spaces through the conditions of sensorial and tactile engagement. Each interactive component was engineered to trigger a desire for further research by visitors—or further engagement with the didactic materials located in the lobby and website kiosk. The exhibition was subject to ongoing evaluation in the form of qualitative interviews and observations of visitors conducted by Museum Victoria and my research team.
Michael Lallo, ‘A good place for a 3D village’, The Age, December 18, 2008, 18.
Shivangi Ambani-Gandhi, ‘Visit the ruins of Hampi, in Melbourne’, Arts Musings, November 17, 2008.
Wendy Haslem, ‘A new cinema: immersive and interactive’, RealTime 89 (February-March 2009).
Imelda Dover, ‘Case study: Ancient Hampi’, Museum Practice (Spring 2009), 64–5.
Susan Scollay, ‘Exhibition review: imagining Hampi’, The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia: TASSA Review 18 (2008): 14–15.
Ray Edgar, ‘Thinking outside the box’, The Age, June 19, 2009.