An Archaeology of Disability

DAVID GISSEN, JENNIFER STAGER, MANTHA ZARMAKOUPI

A Research Station created for the Biennale Architettura 2021, How will we live together?; and was exhibited in the Gipsoteca di Pisa, January – April 2022 and at the Canellopoulos Museum in Athens (June 28 – November 30, 2023). It is now shown at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki from December 15, 2023, till June 15, 2024. 

The accessibility of historic architecture not only determines who can experience the past, but it also informs how we think about disabled people as part of history. This installation presents an experiment in the historic reconstruction of the Acropolis in Athens. Our reconstructions recover ideas about bodies and impairment at one of the most canonical, influential, and notoriously inaccessible architectural sites. We explored what it means to reconstruct lost elements of the Acropolis through the lens of human impairment. Such an approach contrasts to the pursuit of “accessible heritage” — a balance between historic authenticity of architecture and technical modifications made for accessibility. We call our alternative to accessible heritage “an archaeology of disability.” 

The elements we reconstructed include an enormous 5th Century BCE ramp that once connected the Acropolis to the Agora; a gallery of paintings at the top of the ramp; and a small stone seat, described by an ancient visitor as a place to rest. The ramp’s form is reconstructed as a tactile, touch-based model that transmits vibrations like those caused by the ancient crowds, animals, and carriages. It is ringed with a frieze of braille. The paintings, known through text, are reconstructed in sign language. This reconstruction, titled “Sēmata” (signs) is performed in a film-work. The stone seat is reconstructed in three different sizes and heights. Each is decorated with braille-like patterns that communicate the optical effect of weathered stone into a tactile form. Collectively, these reconstructions demonstrate another way to consider disability and the historic past — one that moves beyond technological fixes to physical objects. Disability emerges as a form of historical inquiry, archaeology, and reconstruction — one informed by the experience of collective human difference across space and time. 

 

 

ACCESS TO THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF THESSALONIKI

Sponsors

Evangelos Pistiolis Foundation
Williams Publication Fund, University of Pennsylvania
SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University
The New School University
KSAS Dean’s Office, Johns Hopkins University
The Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University
Humanities + Urbanism + Design Initiative, University of Pennsylvania
Powered by the Onassis Scholars’ Association
Foundation for Contemporary Arts, New York