Vertigo: On the pursuit of timelessness and terrestrial transcendence in The Great War Exhibition

Mr Nicholas Haig1

1Massey University


In April 2015, The Great War Exhibition opened in the Old Dominion Museum in Wellington. Created by filmmaker Peter Jackson and at least in financial terms a central component of New Zealand’s centennial commemorations of the First World War, the exhibition featured state of the art immersive environments and interactive technologies, hundreds of colourised photographs, a surfeit of military weaponry and paraphernalia, and numerous full-scale (and often bloody) dioramas.

My focus in this paper is – broadly – with addressing questions relating to the public remembrance of violent legacies. And in particular with questions concerning “emplaced” but “dislocated” memorial representation. Informed by Giorgio Agamben’s theorising around ‘zones of indistinction’ and Slavoj Žižek’s psychoanalytic insights with regard to the ‘screening of the “real”’ and ‘interpassivity,’ the argument that will be put forward in this paper is that exhibition works – and indeed is intended to work – to ensnare visitors in an uncanny and temporally and spatially indeterminate void, a vertiginous (non)space which functions to occlude the possibility of critical reflection. Further to this, I will also explore some of the implications of such approaches to memorialisation and remembrance, that is, the desire to make past events appear here and now.


Based in Nelson, New Zealand, I completed an MA in Museum Studies in 2016 and am currently a Massey University Doctoral candidate. My research focuses on contemporary memorial formations and the social and political functions of museums. I also moonlight as an art critic and curator and have been employed as a research assistant and tutor by Massey since 2016.

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