The Unsightly: touching the Parthenon Frieze

Hetherington, Kevin (2002). The Unsightly: touching the Parthenon Frieze. Theory, Culture & Society, 19(5-6) pp. 187–205.



This article looks at a quite different form of mediation, a tactile book on the Parthenon Frieze for the visually impaired that has recently been produced by the British Museum. As a material expression of the current concern with equal opportunities and access within the museum sector, this book attempts to provide a form of access through an artefact to another set of artefacts (the sculptures themselves) for a group of people on the margins of the museum's visual space. Conscious of the conservational problems of allowing objects to be touched directly, the book provides an optical prosthesis that allows the hand to extend into an otherwise visual space. But as a form of mediation the book reproduces the representational codes of Enlightenment scopics, in which the view point is reduced to the optics of the subject. In contrast, Hetherington argues that the body of the visually impaired person, notably the hand, offers another and quite different form of mediation in which the body, through its haptic capacities, comes to challenge (stop) this correspondence between the optic and the scopic. Associating instead the haptic with the scopic opens up the possibility with a new form of connection with the sign's materiality and performativity.

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