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That sinking feeling

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

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The Atlanta Civic Center is proving the city's primary venue for highly produced examinations of death. The recent BODIES: The Exhibition, featuring plasticized Chinese, is now followed by another death-tripper for the whole family, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, put on by the Atlanta-based BODIES crew, Premier Exhibitions, Inc. and centered on this infamous 1912 maritime disaster.

Though it occasionally succumbs to the same cheese factor that gave BODIES its freak-show quality, Titanic's survey of mortality is a more poetic look into the void. Perhaps taking a cue from another Titanic obsessive, director James Cameron, the Premier exhibition uses some distinctly cinematic strategies.

Upon entering, an ominous "soundtrack" portending doom shifts as visitors thread their way through the exhibit rooms, changing from rousing celebratory fiddling for the boat's launch and culminating in metallic pings and groans as death comes a-calling. The mood lighting, props and set design throughout the exhibit, including a slab of ice in the shape of the famous deadly iceberg viewers can touch, aspire to create a sensory immersion in the Titanic experience.

The emphasis in this exhibition is on the 300-plus artifacts recovered from the disaster site in 1993 that are heralded as more telling and emotionally stirring a connection to dead souls than words or pictures.

It's a debatable point, though some of the most fascinating documents are objects, such as the elaborate Titanic dinnerware, which proves a potent means of appreciating the social mores of the time: small details of china design (such as the ship's logo placed on third-class dinnerware to discourage theft) offering material connections with how life was lived.

The Titanic is an enduring metaphor and reminder of our own mortality that seems even more appropriate in the wake of Sept. 11, and with the escalation of the war in Iraq, when death seems to be a more immediate concern. Like the destruction of the World Trade Centers, the grand ship felled by an iceberg continues as a reminder that even wealth and technology cannot stave off the great equalizer of death.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. Through June 2, 2007. $16-$20. Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Atlanta Civic Center, 395 Piedmont Ave. 866-640-0303. www.titanictix.com.

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