Department Lecture Series: Taking Place

Event Date: 

Thursday, February 25, 2016 -
5:00pm to 7:00pm

Event Date Details: 

Reception 5:00 pm, Lecture 5:30 pm

Event Location: 

  • Arts 1332

Greek Sacred Architecture and the Archaeology of the Senses

Ioannis Mylonopoulos (Columbia University)

The department is pleased to announce the third lecture in the 2015-2016 HAA Lecture Series, Taking Place, will be by Dr. Ioannis Mylonopoulos, Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Art, Architecture, and Archaeology.

As a visually impaired architect, Chris Downey creates spaces that can be experienced with all senses and not just with vision. So his statement about his encounter with a built structure:

The idea of simplicity for the sake of mental clarity can actually be created even within a complex space by having an orthogonal way of moving through that space. Even a Frank Gehry design can have an orthogonal footprint within it. I’d love to visit his museum in Bilbao. It could be a fascinating building to hear or to sense…

leaves out the sensorial experience that most of us consider a given and upon which a large part of our empirical and analytical knowledge is based: experience through vision. Applied to the understanding of ancient Greek and Roman architecture, Downey’s approach forces us to realize that our canonical knowledge almost exclusively originates in analyses based on visual observation. With the exception of recent scientific experiments regarding the acoustics of theaters, the study of ancient architecture in general and sacred architecture in particular has focused primarily on typological categorizations, the search for the origins of the Doric and Ionian orders, and the definition of ritual functions at a very practical level. When discussing the hekatombe in the Panathenaia, for example, we do read about the impressive number of the sacrificial animals or even about the practicalities of performing the slaughter of 100 animals of considerable size in a rather small space, but rarely do we hear anything about the deafening noise, the unbearable smell of blood, or the nauseating scent of incense. Greek temples are still seen as minimalistic luminous spaces that housed a cult statue, and sanctuaries are understood in an almost metaphysical way as well-organized environments that served the sole purpose of enhancing the communication between the human and divine spheres. Despite countless ancient written sources, the idea of an ancient Greek sanctuary as a colorful, boisterous, rather smelly bazaar or the thought of a Greek temple as an overfilled storage space of an antiques dealer are still considered almost blasphemous.

The paper will attempt to present ancient Greek temple architecture and sanctuaries in general as spaces that were anything but empty contemplative environments, as spaces that can only be understood fully if we look at them not only with our eyes. In Downey’s words, a Greek temple must have been a "fascinating building to hear or to sense," and this paper aims at reconstructing at least part of this fascination.

Taking Place: When we think about people doing things, we inevitably imagine these events as "taking place" somewhere in time and space. Action and place are intimately linked, continually and reciprocally transforming one another. What we do shapes our sense of where we are; correspondingly, yet perhaps less familiarly, where we are shapes the how and why of what we do. In recent years, there has been much scholarly attention devoted to new conceptions of the materiality of place and of setting as lived experience. This series of talks aims to rethink the traditional view of architecture and space as merely backdrops to human activity. Guest scholars and artists working in different disciplines (art history, anthropology, classics, philosophy, and film) will address a number of useful and challenging ways we can begin to think through a variety of kinds of 'places' — houses, burials, theaters, even whole geographic regions — ranging in scale from a cone of light in a dark room to a collection of neighborhoods in late antique Asia Minor. Speakers will pay particular attention to the active functions of places, to the roles these material extensions of ourselves may have played (or may still play) in structuring the activities occurring within them — in preserving, maintaining, and transmitting to us the architecture of how we do what we do.

Click here to download the series poster and save the dates for these upcoming lectures (unless specified, lectures take place in Arts 1332):

  • Thursday, March 31: Dr. Edward Casey (SUNY Stony Brook), "Place and Climate Change"
  • Thursday, May 26: Anthony McCall (New York-based installation artist), Topic TBA, Location: SOhO Club