Spotlight on Innovation and Collaboration: Symposium in Athens Explores ‘Current(s)’

June 30, 2023
Sculptor Martha Friedman (Lewis Center for the Arts) presents her work to students in " Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine: Bodies, Physicians, and Patients," taught by Brooke Holmes (Classics).

By Lisa Kraege, Humanities Council

Last summer, the Princeton Athens Center hosted “CURRENT(S)/RHEUMATA,” a workshop organized by Brooke Holmes (Classics), Polina Kosmadaki (Benaki Museum), and Yorgos Tzirtzilakis (University of Thessaly).

The workshop was part of “Elasticities,” formed by Holmes and sculptor and senior lecturer Martha Friedman (Lewis Center for the Arts) and supported by a special grant from the Humanities Council. “Elasticities” is a collaborative network between the arts and humanities formed to foster conversation around the relationship of body and mind, experimental temporalities, and the production of shared knowledge in the classroom, the studio, and the gallery.

The two-day event brought together architects, poets, artists, faculty, and graduate students from Princeton and Athens to discuss and build a theory of rheumata, or “currents.” The symposium theme and title originated from a saying attributed to the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus: “Everything flows, and nothing stays.”

When this principle of change is taken to extremes, as with the climate crisis, pandemics, and ever-increasing global political instability, how do we make sense of the changing current? “CURRENT(S)/RHEUMATA” invited participants to think about this disorienting sensation through the interdisciplinary lens of art and artistic practice.

The CURRENT(S)/RHEUMATA workshop at the Princeton Athens Center in July 2022.

“This inaugural workshop at the Princeton Athens Center built a wonderfully wide-ranging discussion that grew and changed over the course of the two days along its own current(s), with the promise of many new conversations to come as the project continues to develop,” said Holmes, who is the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Classics at Princeton University. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Humanities Council and the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies.

The event grew out of long-standing collaboration between Holmes, Kosmadaki, and Tzirtzilakis, which began with “Liquid Antiquity,” a project commissioned by the DESTE Foundation in 2017 as an exhibition in the form of a book, as well as the installation “Liquid Antiquity: Conversations,” designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro at the Benaki Museum in Athens.

Since then, there have been new collaborations with the Princeton Athens Center in 2017 and 2018 with support from the GCNF-supported Postclassicisms Network. In 2022, “Elasticities” expanded to include two courses taught by Holmes – an undergraduate course on ancient Mediterranean medicine, and an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities (IHUM) seminar on curating antiquities co-taught with curator and writer Nida Ghouse – and an exhibition of Friedman’s work, “Body Matters,” at the Princeton University Art Museum.

This piece is part of a new series highlighting innovative research and collaboration supported by the Humanities Council in the last year.

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