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April 2013

Taking down exhibitions can bring us closer to the objects than building new ones (and create more fun)

By Biomedicine in museums

I wrote the other day that taking down museum exhibitions could be as much fun as building new ones.

BAuNwoaCEAA5KjvThat was a pretty spontaneous tongue-in-cheek comment triggered by our conservator Nanna Gerdes’ enthusiastic twitter series of images (see @NaGerdes and storified here, here and here) from the process of taking down three old exhibition rooms in our museum’s Tietkens Gaard building.

But the more I think about it, I feel this spontaneous remark has some deeper truth to it. Here’s the way I reason about it:

Most curators will probably think the design and building of an exhibition is more fun than taking it down afterward. Especially if you are interested in ideas and concepts, and in constructing new unseen worlds.

Sure, it can surely be forbiddingly exhausting to design and build: conceptualising and physically constructing a new exhibition in the interfaces between history and the present, between images and material artefacts, immaterial ideas and three-dimensional physical spaces can at times be frustrating and anxiety-provoking.

But all in all it’s a pretty satisfying creative process. And I think it is this combination of hard work and immersion in creative processes that make us think of exhibition making as being ‘fun’.

And in contrast, the taking down an exhibition after closing day sounds, from an exhibition curator’s point of view, like a pretty dull and boring activity. The opposite of having fun. Like cleaning up after the party rather than planning and taking part in it.

However, I think there is another and more fun side to taking down than the immediate connotations of boredom, deconstruction and cleaning up.

Whereas the building and construction process has certain similarities with being on speed (especially in the last couple of weeks and days before the opening), the post-closing process is much more relaxed. If building up is associated with fervour, even hysteria, taking down is more characterised by tranquility, even melancholia.

Now, paradoxically, the creative and conceptual focus in the building phase draws the curator’s attention away from the artefacts themselves. When you build an exhibition you are 110% focused on how to find the right objects and images, and how to make them fit into the overarching theme of the show. You concentrate on the meaning of the artefacts — their history, their social context, their cultural significance, how they play together with other artefacts into a meaningful whole. The concept and the idea are sovereign, the artefacts its subjects.

After closing down, however, the conceptual frame is dead. The curator’s ordering mind has since long continued to other storage room hunting grounds. Now the remaining artefacts are no longer subjected to the powerful mind of the inquisitive and sovereign curator, they are no longer props in the curator’s script. And suddenly we can see them for what they are, as artefacts pure and simple.

So if you really want to see, smell, touch and contemplate artefacts, you’d better not get too involved in the constructive building up of a new exhibition, but rather wait until the last visitor has left the rooms and the catalogue has been removed from the shelves of the museum shop. When the show is over, the curator in the original sense of the word (the one who cares about artefacts) enters the scene and takes a renewed and more intense look at the artefacts.

That intense dealing with the artefacts can be pretty ‘fun’ too. My online dictionary defines ‘fun’ as “a source of enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure”, and that’s what a less hectic and conceptual dealing with artefacts can be: enjoyable, amusing, pleasurable, playful.

Actually, even if we talk about exhibition making as ‘fun’, there isn’t really much time for pleasure and play in the process. Deadlines must be met, budgets kept, many different wills must be negotiated, and conflicts avoided. That’s hectic fun. But packing the whole thing down afterwards gives us a chance to engage with the things in a more free and relaxed way: that’s playful fun.

And after all, that’s what fun is about, isn’t it?

The colour historians were here

By Biomedicine in museums

8655008946_0f1820aea1_oWe’ve had two specialists in colour history visting from the National Museum of Denmark.

They have worked hard grinding down selected areas of the walls and doors in the museum’s Titkens Gaard building to find out what colours the new exhibition room have had since the mid 18th century.

See also Nanna’s tweets here.

For larger images, click the photos below:

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Taking down exhibitions is almost as fun as building them up

By Biomedicine in museums

As I wrote in an earlier post, we are now on the track of building up the new semi-permanent exhibition ‘Under the Skin’ in the museum’s Tietkens Gaard building.

In the last couple of months, our conservator Nanna Gerdes has worked hard to take down the three former exhibition rooms and packed the artefacts for remote storage.

Judged by Nanna’s enthusiastic photographing activities, taking down the old exhibitions for storage seems to be almost as fun as building up new ones.

See Nanna’s storified twitter posts of the X-ray study collection with images here; ditto from the Finsen exhibition here, and ditto from the exhibition of anatomical models here.

[flickrset id=”72157633259585518″ thumbnail=”thumbnail” photos=”” overlay=”true” size=”medium”].

(And here’s the ground plan of the rooms exhibition, ca.  25 x 12 meters in all:)

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Human remains — constructing the 'Under the Skin'-exhibition

By Biomedicine in museums

We are now in the first phase of the construction of our new 3500 square feet semi-permanent exhibition here at Medical Museion — provisionally titled ‘Under the Skin’ — to be opened in the late autumn of 2014.

The exhibition will show some of best specimens from our big collection of normal and pathological anatomical specimens and other human remains, together with a number of new acquisitions from contemporary human remains, such as samples from bio- and tissue banks.

[flickrset id=”72157633220266252″ thumbnail=”thumbnail” photos=”24″ overlay=”true” size=”medium”]

Already last year we secured the basic funding for the new exhibition from the Arbejdsmarkedets Feriefond (AFF), but until recently we’ve been waiting for the University of Copenhagen’s decision to redecorate the beautiful exhibition rooms in the mid-18th century Tietkens Gaard building.

Now the University has decided to start the redecoration and therefore we are now launching an exhibition site, where we tell about the successive phases of the construction process:

1) taking down the former study collections in the spring of 2013

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nedtag røntgen (233)

2) clearing the rooms

3) the rebuilding and redecoration of the rooms in the next 6 months

4) the continuous development of the concept for the new exhibition and the preliminary design ideas

5) choosing and curating objects and images in the next 12 months; and finally

6) the mounting and installation in the early fall of 2014.

Our conservator Nanna Gerdes has tweeted her daily work taking down, packing and conserving the objects from the former study collections in the room (follow her here: @NaGerdes).

New thoughts and ideas for the exhibition project will be available through our blog and via Facebook.

Read more here:

The substance of fat – a multisensory event about fat

By Biomedicine in museums

Want to explore fat with pencil and pastry fork?

Promo image Substance low-resWe seem to live in a world obsessed with fat. Obesity is described as a worldwide health threat, and we are bombarded by diet advice. But fat itself is a mystery. While we know that “full fat” foods can be bad for us, we also know that the body needs fat (and of course, greasy food can be the most delicious). We often find fatty substances disgusting, but moisturize our skin with lotions based on lard and oil. And the kinds of bodies seen as beautiful oscillate wildly over time and media. It’s a love-hate relationship.

Last year we opened the exhibition “Obesity – what’s the problem?” here at Medical Museion. The exhibition takes a close look at the gastric bypass operation used to treat morbid obesity, and some intriguing recent research in metabolism. It’s all very scientific and clinical. But what about fat as a substance? How do we feel about it?

On Sunday 5 May we organise an afternoon event full of sensuous exploration of our love/hate relationship with fat. With London-based fine artist Lucy Lyons as our guide, we will feel, draw and eat our way through a world of fat. Also participating will be senior curator Bente Vinge Pedersen, Medical Museion, who is responsible for the exhibition ”Obesity – What’s the problem?”. Associate Professor Romain Barres, a specialist in human fat tissue and metabolism at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR), University of Copenhagen, will help us explore what scientists know about the way that fat cells work.

The event takes place at Medical Museion, Bredgade 62, 1260 Copenhagen K on Sunday 5 May, 1-5 pm.

Tickets including entrance to the museum, coffee/tea and cake are on sale at Billetto, 75 DKK.

More info here:

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