The Coffin Carries More Than Bodies
The Roman sarcophagus (or stone coffin) is an example of funerary art that dates back two thousand years. The word sarcophagus emerged from Greek roots that roughly translates to the compound phrase, “flesh eating.” A number of examples of ancient Roman sarcophagi now reside in the permanent collection of the RISD Museum. I’ve been puzzled over the public’s lack of physical access to these objects: how can people understand the actual value and embodied meaning of these stone vessels when the public is prevented from touching them—and even from standing too close to their display? The public’s access is channeled instead through an interpretive label, or audio guide, provided by the museum. I sense people lose interest quickly and quickly leave the artwork behind. I suspect, however, that there may be others like me who are curious to know what’s inside these closed containers. In Treasure Chest, I dissect a sarcophagus from its surface inward, seeking to expose its heart and share it with others. My goal is to offer a deeper, decidedly tactile experience that exposes the interiority of these ancient funerary objects and reframes public engagement with their form and purpose through a digital place.