Catrin Huber in her studio with two of her replicas of Roman antiquities.

Expanded interiors

Contemporary artworks have been installed inside the 'House of the Beautiful Courtyard' in Herculaneum and the 'House of the Cryptoporticus' in Pompeii. These sites are the backdrop for Expanded Interiors, a project aiming to create a dialogue between contemporary art, Roman wall-painting and archaeological remains.

The driving-force behind it is Catrin Huber, a visual artist and senior lecturer in the Fine Art Department at the university of Newcastle. She has assembled a team of experts in archaeology and digital technology, including Professor Ian Haynes, Dr Thea Ravasi and Alex Turner and, in contemporary art, Rosie Morris, – all from the university – in order to explore the relevance of Roman art and artefacts for today's artists and to see how they respond to the layered history of these two iconic sites within a contemporary context. Expanded Interiors combines archaeological investigation, 3D digital scanning and printing to further explore and understand the two ancient houses.

The £270k venture promises to be an arresting experience: 'The project will enable people to see contemporary art in a unique and truly inspiring setting,' says Huber, 'and we will use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create work that responds to the two Roman houses, and to Herculaneum and Pompeii.

Alex Turner scans the 'House of the Beautiful Courtyard' in Herculaneum

'Both houses feature beautiful wall paintings, and this will inspire us to explore the design and purpose of these houses. The digital techniques we use will also help to promote fresh ways of exhibiting artefacts at archaeological sites.' The exhibition at Herculaneum focuses on Roman objects and their artistically altered replicas, concentrating on female figures, and brings reproductions of exquisite, rarely seen artefacts from store-rooms back into the public arena. This contemporary installation also works with encoded messages relating to the history and context of the site; the 'House of the Beautiful Courtyard', for example, was home to an Antiquarium (or small museum) opened there in 1956 by Amedeo Maiuri, the archaeologist and director of
the site at the time.

The exhibition at Pompeii responds to the recently restored wall paintings in the 'House of the Cryptoporticus', where two installations of Huber's wall paintings incorporate Roman objects. One painting is in the underground passageway, or cryptoporticus, decorated with a frieze that is part of a sequence of painted panels and herms.
Huber's work juxtaposes the Roman frieze with the painted colonnade incorporating replicas of objects such as oil lamps and face-pots, bridging the ancient and contemporary worlds.

A second contemporary installation, in the 'House of the Cryptoporticus', is a room of contemporary wall paintings. These relate to the rare Roman bathroom area of the house, with its richly painted, complex and illusionistic architectural designs. The contemporary paintings respond to a complex play of 2D and 3D space, open and closed walls, inside and outside space, and perspectival shifts.

• Both exhibitions are open to the public until January 2019.
Lindsay Fulcher