EMERSON LAWTON



Entombment, 2021. Resin and clay. Approx. 2 × 2 × 2 in.
THIS IS NOT A KEEPSAKE, 2020. India ink on newsprint. 24 × 18 in.
Emanifesto, 2021. Handbound zine and stickers. 6 × 5 in.


The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. decimated the Italian city of Pompeii, creating a literal, architectural, and cultural graveyard to be discovered hundreds of years later. Growing up, my obsession with volcanoes led me to become immersed in research about this eruption and its aftermath, fueling a desire to explore the site and get my hands in the dirt. At 20 years old, within a week of leaving the U.S. for the first time, I got on a train to Naples and found myself standing in the ruins I’d spent my whole life chasing.

The experience was surreal and nothing like I’d expected—simultaneously under- and- overwhelming as I was yelled at by Italian men in kiosks trying to sell me coasters and swept up in crowds of tourists. In a moment away from the hordes of people, I sat on an ancient curb in silence and watched Vesuvius looming over the ruins, a now-silent time bomb. In that moment, the space felt sacred.

The paradox of stands selling tacky souvenirs at the entrance of a city buried by a volcanic eruption feels exploitative, but archeological tourism financially supports preservation of the site. These cheap knickknacks are a contemporary interpretation of site documentation, while the ruins themselves are a raw, frozen record of one moment in this ancient city. My thesis recontextualizes methods and ethics of preservation and explores how they relate to sacred spaces through the lens of archaeology and the analysis of a natural disaster. By exploring physical artifacts, type, photography, and other narratives, I will dig deep into these themes and unearth new perspectives on why and how we protect and conserve knowledge.