Objects on Parade: Nations, Heterotopias, and Individuals as Ancient Artifacts (15 min)


Jackson N. Miller, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


In 2004, a coterie of individuals dressed as kouroi, caryatids, and figures from Minoan paintings danced across the Olympic Stadium as part of the Opening Ceremonies of the Athens Olympics. My presentation reviews this parade of objects and, to a lesser extent, the Golden Pharoah’s Parade of 2021 to examine how embodying famous artifacts in spectacles can help nations assert and maintain control over their heritage and material culture.

I use Foucault’s concept of “heterotopia” as a framework to consider how these performances attempt to construct tangible connections between antiquities and modern peoples and their nations. A heterotopia, or “other space,” is an ideological and physical place in which a nation attempts to represent itself and its values. In scholarship on contemporary Greece, heterotopia has been used to consider how the purposeful juxtaposition of ancient and modern monuments in the landscape can coax viewers into believing in a cultural continuity from antiquity to today. However, there has been less attention on how nations have incorporated individuals and their bodies into their enactment and construction of heterotopias. In these parades, having people embody and perform as these ancient sculptures and figures melds and unifies artifact and person. I argue that in a modern system in which DNA studies and biology, understood as “objective” sciences, are seen as the most legitimate ways of confirming ancestry and historical connections, then the construction of this continuity and link between ancient object and modern human can be politically expedient. Traditional arguments that artifacts and monuments belong to a universal heritage lose their potency when nations suggest or envision that their people have a physical and bodily connection to the materials of the past. Ultimately, this paper explores new avenues through which nations construct and stake claims to the past and its material culture.