Spike Island

Aaron WilliamsonThe Affligare Unit


1 to 9 May 2010

Event type


Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursarist Aaron Williamson opens up his studio to show The Affligare Unit, a work-in-progress developed during his recent residency at Spike Island.

‘The Affligare’ [1] were a medieval European tribe of disabled mendicants – or ‘beggar cripples’. This small, itinerant tribe of up to 30 people managed to survive solely on charitable alms for almost 200 years between their formation as a tribe after witnessing the dramatic Leonid Meteor Storm in s’Hertogenbosch (NL) in 1437, and their apparent dispersal around 1630.

From a contemporary perspective, the Affligare Tribe present a fascinating and unique subject for study. Barely registering in histories of the medieval period until recent times, (the discovery of ‘the Meteorite Porringer of the Affligare’ [2] in 2003 was a catalyst for renewed interest); deeper understanding of the Tribe’s existence and character is of compelling interest both to the emerging field of Disability Studies and to ethno-anthropological schools of thought generally.

The objects in this vitrine unit are largely from a hoard of objects (artefacts and art) discovered in 1972 beneath a barn in Hildesheim in Germany. The display also includes the Porringer (found 32 years later) as its centrepiece.

[1] A Latin word, meaning ‘knocked down’ from which we derive the word ‘afflicted’.

[2] A small begging bowl cast from meteorite iron dating to c.1576 decorated with an intricate letter ‘A’ design.

Aaron Williamson

Aaron Williamson (1960) has created performances, publications, installations and artist’s videos at an international level for over 20 years, working in venues as disparate as the Tate Modern, the Royal Festival Hall and an Inuit community hut in North Greenland.  As a disability artist (he is deaf), Williamson's work inverts the traditional valorisation of social ‘outsiderness’ and primitivism, to create mock-hermits, sham-shamans, fake feral children, charlatan Saints and dubious monsters.

The artist completed a PhD on performance, writing and bodily identity at the University of Sussex in 1997. In addition to his own practice, Williamson is artistic director of 15mm Films, a collective of disability artists and collaborates with Katherine Araniello as The Disabled Avant-Garde.

Aaron Williamson's website