Titanic exhibition gives rise to truths of the 20th century

By Robert Reid - The Record


The Titanic has docked in downtown Kitchener.

Most people know about the “unsinkable” steamship sinking after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic, even if they don’t know the date — April 15, 1912.

Thanks to The Museum, history and mystery collide with an exhibition of more than 150 artifacts recovered from the world’s most famous shipwreck.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is being unveiled Thursday at an invitation-only gala. It opens to the public Friday and continues through Jan. 23. Presented by Atlanta-based RMS Titanic Inc., the largest exhibition in The Museum’s eight-year history is expected to draw record crowds.

During the past 15 years, international touring exhibitions have attracted more than 22 million spectators. The only company licensed to recover objects from the wreckage has salvaged more than 5,500 artifacts during seven expeditions between 1987 and 2004. Titanic would be impressive were the exhibition simply a collection of artifacts.

But it is more — much more. It’s the compelling human drama told through the artifacts that makes the exhibition so deeply moving and memorable.

Many artifacts stop you in your tracks. A display of white plates recovered from the ocean’s floor resembles the headstones of unnamed soldiers in the cemeteries.

Spread over two floors, the multimedia exhibition spans the inception and construction of the ship through its fateful voyage and aftermath, including recovery and conservation operations.

After receiving replicas of boarding passes of actual passengers, gallerygoers travel back in time and experience what it was like aboard ship through the use of full-scale, facsimile installations.

They even get up-close and personal with an iceberg. Gallerygoers gain insight into the science and technology pertaining to the ship. But it’s the stories of heroism and loss, which put a human face on the ill-fated ocean liner, that strike the deepest chords.

This installment of Titanic features some never-before-shown postcards with Canadian connections. The Museum has partnered with a couple of area institutions. The Fashion History Museum is loaning period clothing, while the Stratford Perth Museum is loaning period luggage.

The Museum is also partnering with the Grand River Film Festival and Princess Cinema to present a film series, including the screening of James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster. There will also be a mini-lecture series.

According to the old TV show Star Trek, the intergalactic reaches of outer space constitute the last frontier. But anyone experiencing Titanic might argue that the last frontier is closer to home — the deepest reaches of the oceans that cover 71 per cent of the planet.

The sinking of the state-of-the-art ship continues to resonate after nearly a century because it is a case of history transcending time and place and becoming symbolic.

The story of the Titanic encapsulates the story of the 20th century. The event symbolizes the elemental conflict between humanity and nature. Humanity is constantly at the losing end of nature’s wrath, whether the tsunami in Southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina or the recent earthquake in Haiti.

Similarly, there is a religious dimension to the sinking of the Titanic. The Judeo-Christian tradition holds that humanity has dominance over nature, despite evidence to the contrary.

The event is tragic in the common sense of the word because of the loss of life, not to mention the suffering and grief it caused. It is also tragic in the Shakespearean sense because of the narrative that developed contending that it resulted from a human flaw — hubris or arrogance.


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