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Biomedicine in museums

The point of museums is to play with material stuff

By Biomedicine in museums

(Here’s my talk at the night of discussion titled ‘What the hell is the point of museums?’ held at Medical Museion November 3, 2016 – see the program here – text in square brackets were added for this online version)

What (the hell) is the point of museums? I will give my shot by looking backwards on my experiences from being the Director of this place for more than a decade and a half. Not surprisingly, I have asked myself this question many times before: What’s the point of Medical Museion?

When I came here in August 1999 (it feels like yesterday!), when it was Medicinsk-Historisk Museum, I entered a shabby house with only a few public exhibition rooms (for the history of surgery, epidemics, etc.). Less than one percent of the collections were on display; the rest — one of the best collections of medical artefacts in the world —was in repositories that were closed to the public.

But back then it was a mess (and it has taken us almost 15 years to get order out of chaos, and I think it is pretty much in place now, thanks to Ion Meyer and his crew) and therefore one of the first obvious things to do was to open up this treasure trove to the public. Which we have now done over the last ten years, to a large extent thanks to Bente Vinge Pedersen who has produced the majority of >30 large and small exhibitions, almost all based on the rich collections.

Well, this is of course what every museum must do: Get the collections in order, and make a lot of exhibitions. But there was a special twist to it in our case. Because in the course of this work we began to articulate a critical attitude against some tendencies in the museum world — for example that

  • designers and communication professionals tend to take over from the curators
  • museums are turning more and more digital: install digital devices, interactives and touch screens, etc.
  • museums want to become popular, draw large numbers of visitors and be immediately relevant for society tends whhile at the same time cutting down their basic research on material culture
  • story-telling become more important than factual knowledge

Tendencies that all have the unfortunate consequence that they draw the attention away from the material artefacts.

Our clarion call against these tendencies was simple: ‘Back to the objects!’ It is material culture and things that is the key to the museum experience. Keeping and investigating artefacts is the basic rationale for a museum. And the acquisition of new artefacts is the life-blood of museums.

We began to discuss in these terms around 2006 when Camilla Mordhorst, who had an interest in rarity cabinets; Adam Bencard, who had a philosophical interest in the material body; and myself, who was fascinated by new biomedical technoscientific objects, read and discussed Sepp Gumbrecht’s notions of ‘meaning’ and ‘presence [see The Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey, 2004] – and translated his ideas into a museum context.

Since then we have continued to debate the consequences of thinking in terms of ‘presence’ over the last ten years, and we have learnt a lot:

  • we learnt that design is good and important — but that it should enhance the attention to the artefacts, not draw attention away from them.
  • we learnt that we need really good texts — but that texts should always be kept to a minimum. Texts shall enhance attention to artefacts, not draw attention away from them.
  • we learnt to appreciate the need of visuals and images — but we’d rather prefer original material objects than pictures.
  • we understood that story-telling can very be good, for example when a guide shows visitors around — but that telling stories is always secondary to the primary interaction with the things. (The objects are not props in a story.)
  • and we came to the conclusion, that we would avoid digital devices, interactives and touch screens as much as possible.
  • and we agreed that online access to digital images of objects is fine — but that we must make sure that the digital museum is not a substitute for the direct sensual interaction with the objects.

Which leads me to the most important experience – that we learnt to approach artefacts with all our senses. We learnt to see them by drawing them [thanks Lucy Lyons]. We learnt how it feels to handle objects without viewing them first, and we developed our tactile skills (is the object heavy, hard or soft?) [thanks Jan-Erik Olsén]. And we experimented with the olfactory sense: What does it smell? [thanks Anette Stenslund].

I think this ‘Back to the presence of objects’–approach has been the major connecting idea behind our exhibitions — and maybe behind the positive reception most of them have had (and by the way, thanks to Bikubenfonden for last year’s exhibition price!).

And thus my first take-home point for the debate this evening, namely that the point of museums is basically to collect, take care of, and investigate material stuff. Period. Everything else is secondary.

Or to put it differently: Museums can be entertaining, they can be learning institutions, they can be hubs for democracy education, and so forth. But if they forget their basic rationale — to be keepers and curators of material culture — they have no reason to exist.

So many other institutions and media are much better when it comes to entertainment, learning and education to democracy. Books, newspapers, magazines, television and radio do it better. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter do it much better. These media are already very good at utilizing visuals online — they tell great narratives — and they can do all we try to do much better than we can. Except investigate material things.

So I think it’s a mistake to duplicate what other institutions are doing much better than museums are. It’s a waste of resources and it’s a waste of our core assets.

My second take-home point has to do with our name, Medical Museion.

The modifier ‘medical’ is quite obvious; this museum has been associated with the University’s medical faculty for more than a century. But the background of the noun ‘Museion’ is more interesting.

My simple idea was that a museum ought to be a temple of the Muses, the old Greek goddesses who inspire poets, historians and philosophers. In Hellenistic times, the Mouseion was a place where you got inspired, inseminated with ideas – in contrast to the Renaissance museum where you collected things. Calling it a Museion therefore was for me a rhetorical means to emphasize that we had to imbue the museum with the attitude of the university. Or at least the ideal university.

Actually, when I came to this institution as a professor in history of medicine in 1999, I had one and only one ambition – to gather a group of PhD-students around a seminar table. The dream came true: I have had the privilege to have altogether ten of them over the years (some of them are here now), and also a handful of postdocs. But after a few years, I realized it would be a shame if they were isolated as a group of Researchers with capital R. They should really be integrated in the daily museum activities. They should collect and try their hands on the artefacts. And vice versa, the technical staff should get acquainted with research problems.

So we expanded the seminar, from being a research seminar only to deal with the whole spectrum of museum issues: Exhibition plans, conservation issues, collection logistics etc. And we invited a steady stream of guests, both academics and curators (and not least art practitioners) to come and share our investigation of things.

And most importantly, these seminars should be free and lively. Argument and interesting ideas was king. Formal position meant nothing.

I like to think about this as a defining characteristic of this house, i.e., that this attitude spread also outside the seminar room, so that the museum as a whole became a continuous, almost daily seminar, with open-ended debates, with a flat structure. And that you were allowed to play and try crazy things.

Thus my second take-home point for the discussion — that every museum should install a culture of curiosity, of investigation and a research mentality. A constant playing around with ideas and things. And that this culture of play [cf. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens] should be shared across the whole staff, including conservation staff, collection staff, exhibition curators and researchers.

I think it is a great mistake to have one’s eyes fixed on visitor numbers or relevance or usefulness to society. The key to success is the staff, and the key to the staff is to let the employees play freely as much as possible. If a serious culture of play can be installed, good exhibitions and raising visitor numbers (and perhaps prizes) will follow.

I would also have liked to say something about a third take-home point, namely about the problem that so many museums are fixated on the contemporary political and cultural landscape, that this makes us vulnerable to political interventions and rapidly changing ideological agendas, and that we should therefore instead focus on the long past and the very far future in order to keep our integrity as museums. But this would take another five minutes so I will stop here. (And besides, having two take-home points fits better with my conclusion.)

To conclude I would like to paraphrase the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, who once famously said that “thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” [Critique of Pure Reason]

Or, in my museological version: Museums that don’t focus on material stuff and material things are empty – and museums that don’t encourage a playful attitude among the staff are blind.

And thus my answer to the question for the debate tonight: The point of museums is to play with material stuff.

The muse is political — the museum is political

By Biomedicine in museums

In last issue of the journal Isis (vol 107, nr 2, 2016), twelwe scholars discuss different aspects of The History Manifesto from the vantage point of the history of science, technology and medicine.

The History Manifesto is a 125-page call-to-arms by American historians Jo Guldi and David Armitage, published open-access by Cambridge University Press in 2014 (available on-line here), which diagnoses what the authors see as a crisis in the humanities in general (and in history in particular), especially a lack of interest in long-term questions and issues and the tendency among historians to focus in micro-history at the expense of the long-duree. It has generated vigorous discussions among historians internationally.

My contribution to the symposium, titled “The muse(um) is political” (pp. 342-344) is enclosed below (without footnotes). If you want to see the footnotes you can read it as a pdf-file here.

The Muse(um) Is Political

In this brief comment I will restrict myself to a single aspect of The History Manifesto—namely, its failure to mention museums as important venues for historical research and public engagement with history, whether in the longue durée style or in terms of short-term micro-historical episodes. This is an omission that is a trifle ironic in light of the etymology of the word “manifesto” (“public declaration”), since museums are surely among the most important forums for giving substance to the public role of history.

Unfortunately, The History Manifesto’s neglect of museums and material history is further perpetuated in the comments by Karine Chemla and Daniel Kevles. It is especially surprising when Kevles, an accomplished historian of object-rich contemporary science and technology, discusses public engagement. Books, essays, reviews in popular magazines, radio, television, and film each have their place in his survey of popular genres that support engagement with history—but not museums and exhibitions.

In their reply to Jo Guldi and David Armitage, Deborah Cohen and Peter Mandler are among the few in the discussion surrounding the manifesto to mention museums at all, pointing out in passing that “historians in the last forty years have been reaching larger and ever more diverse publics in a wide array of public theaters,” including “the new museums devoted to history, such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in the U.S. and the wave of Heritage Lottery Fund foundations in the UK, and older history museums reinvigorated.” (note 1)

The museums mentioned by Cohen and Mandler engage with social and cultural history, on both national and local levels. However, they could also have added museums of science, technology, and medicine as a significant segment of these new and reinvigorated “public theaters.” Museums like the National Museum of American History (Washington, D.C.), the Deutsches Museum (Munich), the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum (Dresden), the London Science Museum and the Wellcome Collection (London), the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney), the Museum Boerhaave (Leiden), the Canada Science and Technology Museum (Ottawa), and hundreds of other similar institutions around the world are devoted to public engagement with the history of science, technology, and medicine from the early modern period to the present. Many of the outreach activities at these museums are based on historical scholarship in close connection with curatorial work in the collections; and historical and theoretical research also drives new acquisitions. It is also worth noting that these venues boast visitor (read: citizen) numbers that would make publishers of science books jealous: for example, the medium-sized Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology (Oslo) has over 250,000 visitors per year.

This blind spot in the manifesto and among most of its commentators when it comes to museums is particularly problematic, since these are sites that carry unique possibilities for bridging micro-history and the longue durée, connecting short-term episodes with the larger cultural and societal context, and addressing pressing contemporary political issues. On the one hand, individual objects invite the visitor/viewer (and sometimes smeller, listener, and toucher) to ask specific questions about the material, cultural, and social circumstances behind their production and use. Museum researchers, curators, and docents excel in satisfying this curiosity by providing anecdotes and micro-historical details about the material constitution, making, and handling of scientific instruments, apparatuses, tools, and medical devices.

On the other hand, the spatial and architectural features of museums, in combination with innovative arrangements of text, sensory experience, and artifacts, support the visitor in switching, almost simultaneously, between paying attention to the details of material presence and experiencing larger patterns and contexts. A single text in a display case gives episodic context, a group of display cases offers the short-term perspective, while the exhibition or museum as a whole has the capacity to engage visitors in history over the centuries. In chronologically arranged shows, walking through a suite of galleries or looking around a big hall provides an immediate, almost intuitive, grasp of the longue durée, as in the “Making the Modern World” gallery in London’s Science Museum. So whereas individual objects commend themselves to curatorial nitty-gritty and micro-historical narratives, the three-dimensional architectonics of the museum space invite involvement with global dimensions and long stretches of time. Within a single exhibition one can move from the anecdotal features of singular objects to broader cultural and political themes and issues, accompanied by the visualization of digitalized historical data.

Finally, a growing number of museums, including some museums for the history of science, technology, and medicine, have recently begun to reformulate their identity, from being “merely” research institutions, material archives, and exhibition halls to also seeing themselves as public venues for critical discussions about contemporary politics. For example, in addition to whetting the visitors’ appetite for the history of medicine with a consciously aesthetic approach to displaying medical objects, the Wellcome Collection in London invites the audience to take part in events and critical debates about salient societal and political issues in contemporary medicine and health care. Another example that chimes with the manifesto’s idea is the University of Munich Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society’s 15,000-square-foot “Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands” exhibit at the Deutsches Museum, which explores human civilization in the past, present, and future through topics such as evolution, migration, urbanization, and human–machine interaction.

The Latin word “museum” has its origin in the Greek word for a temple for the muses (‘μουσείον’). As Adam J. Sorkin argued in Politics and the Muse (1989), the muse is not just “the handmaiden of beauty, inspirer of art and true knowledge, goddess of song and story, but is political.” (note 2)  In my view, museums make material this combination of qualities. As such, they are central for inspired and critical discussions about the pressing problems of our world today, without the anachronism and discursive abstraction of much political commentary. To paraphrase the concluding paragraph of The History Manifesto: we urgently need the wide-angle, long-range views only historical museums can provide.

(Museums)kultur som branding- og marketingsværktøj

By Biomedicine in museums

Her er nogle af de nøglefraser som kommer at virvle omkring på en seminardag om “kulturen som branding- og marketingsværktøj for både kultur- og erhvervsindustrien”, som Culture Nordic afholder på Nationalmuseet d. 27. oktober:

  • The experience economy
  • Media marketing of tomorrow
  • Digital marketing and audience
  • Search engine optimization
  • Distributing cultural experiences
  • Creative entrepreneurship
  • The intellectual property game
  • Culture based entrepreneurship
  • Cultural entrepreneurship
  • The art of branding cultural icons
  • Designing, building and leveraging cultural brands
  • The art of selling art
  • The art of selling culture
  • Designing authentic commercial cultural practices with integrity
  • Financing culture based projects
  • Innovative and sustainable business strategies across creative industries, tourism and culture

Det handler om at “kontrollere og høste styrken ved kulturel marketing og branding”. Mange af de ledende personer i den danske kultur-, media- og museumsverden er engagerede som oplægsholdere.

Vil der ikke snart komme en kulturel og politisk modreaktion på markedstænkningen og den oplevelsesøkonomiske praksis i kultursektoren? Hvem støber kuglerne?

"Anatomy, art and the body" — Copenhagen symposium on Vesalius' 500th anniversary

By Biomedicine in museums

To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Andreas Vesalius — the author of the De humani corporis fabrica our historically interested colleagues in the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology here at the University of Copenhagen are organising a symposium titled “Anatomy, art and the body” in collaboration with the Belgian Embassy to Denmark.

The symposium will take place in the Lundsgaard auditorium, Panum Building, Copenhagen on Thursday, 18 September. Among the speakers is the renowned Vesalius scholar professor Vivian Nutton, UCL, who, among many other things, has written a most authoritative introduction to Fabrica. Participation is free of charge. For details, see

Symposium attendees will also get a unique opportunity to inspect a displayed copy of the second edition of the De humani corporis fabrica; the new edition by Karger Press will also be introduced.


Materialitet og sanselighed — om at bryde visualitetens tyranni på museer

By Biomedicine in museums

Indtil for nylig har det været tekster og fortællinger, forklaringer og sammenhænge der har stået i centrum for museernes opmærksomhed. Museerne er blevet opfattet som en slags uformelle læringsrum, hvor genstandene nærmest er blevet reduceret til illustrationer til forklaringer og fortællinger.

Men nu kan vi se tegn på at genstandene i deres egen ret er på vej tilbage i museumsverden igen. Flere og flere museer er blevet optaget at arbejde med tingene som ting i sig selv, og ikke kun som props i de kuratorielle fortællinger.

Samtidigt med at tingene er på vej tilbage, så er der en voksende interesse for tingenes sanselige kvaliteter. Og da mener jeg ikke sanselighed i form af en dramaturgisk iscenesættelse af fortællingerne — det er endnu en slags props og en hel museumsindustri i sig selv — men den sanselige oplevelse af tingene selv.

Det er denne form for direkte og umedieret tingslig sanselighed (æstetik i ordets oprindelige Baumgarten’ske betydning) vi er begyndt at interessere os for her på Medicinsk Museion. Udstillingen MetaScent, som åbner i dag, er et led i interessen for denne slags sanselighed.

Sammenhængen mellem materialitet og sanselighed er imidlertid ikke helt ligetil. Alle sanser er ikke lige materielle.

Jeg tror man med fordel kan skelne mellem de ”virkeligt materielle sanser” og de ”ikke-helt-så-materielle sanser”.

Med de ”virkeligt materielle sanser” mener jeg de sanser, som handler om den håndfaste og umiddelbare interaktion mellem tingene og os selv som materielle kropslige væsner (som min kollega Adam Bencard plejer at minde mig om at vi jo er).

Den mest sanselige form for nærkontakt mellem os og de materielle ting — den mest umiddelbart materielle af sanserne — er nok følesansen. Receptorer i fingrene og huden går i gang når vi rører ved tingene. Vi sanser bogstaveligt materialiteten mellem fingrene.

Høresansen er jo ret beset også meget materiel. Det man kalder ”lyd” opstår da molekylerne i luften svinger, og luftsvingningerne påvirker trommehinden, som via de små ben i det indre øre sætter små flimmerhår i bevægelse. Ren materialitet.

Det samme gælder smagssansen. Små molekyler i maden går i clinch med store molekyler (såkaldte smagsreceptorer) i celler på tungen.

Og det samme med lugtesansen. Ofte tænker vi nok ikke på lugtesansen som en materiel sans. Lugt opleves tit så esoterisk, at man nemt glemmer, at det er tale om ren hardcore-materialitet: lugt opstår da molekyler i luften binder sig til lugtreceptormolekyler i næsen. Det er også en helt igennem materiel proces.

Men hvad så med synssansen – den femte af de fem klassiske sanser? Er den en ”virkeligt materiel sans”? Både ja og nej. Husk på, at det at ”se”, rent biologisk og fysisk set, er det samme som at registrere elektromagnetisk stråling i et snævert område af det elektromagnetiske spektrum i en bølgelængde der ligger cirka mellem gamma/røntgenstråler og radiobølger, og at elektromagnetisk stråling har en lidt borderline-agtig status ud fra et materialitetsperspektiv. Lys er både lidt materielt (partikler, så kaldte fotoner), men samtidigt er det underligt immaterielt (bølger). Og selv det materielle aspekt af lyset er lidt mærkeligt, for fotonerne har ikke rigtigt nogen masse.

Så man kan med vis ret sige, at synssansen faktisk ikke er nogen rigtigt materiel sans; at synssansen til forskel fra de fire øvrige klassiske sanser ikke består i en entydigt materiel interaktion mellem vores kroppe og verden omkring os.

Og det leder til et musealt paradoks:

På den ene side er museerne endelig ved at frigøre tingene fra de snærende fortællinger og fortolkninger; vi er ved at slippe dem fri fra sprogets snærende bånd. Og da ville man jo tro at det var de ”rigtige materielle sanser” som ville komme på spil.

Men på den anden side får synssansen alligevel lov til at tage al opmærksomheden. På trods af den voksende interesse for ting og materialitet på museerne – og på trods af al snak om den såkaldte ”materielle vending” blandt humanisterne — så udstiller vi alligevel vores ting bag glas, hvor vi kan få lov at kikke på dem. Men ikke røre dem, eller høre, hvordan det lyder da vi slår på dem, eller smage eller lugte til dem. Og udstillingsarkitekterne taler om lyssætning – men sjældent om lydsætning, og aldrig om følesætning, for ikke at tale om smagssætning.

Synssansen og det visuelle dominerer altså stadigvæk museumsoplevelsen. Trods at museerne er fyldt op med materielle ting, som vi ville kunne høre og smage og føle på, og lugte til, så er de besøgende stadigvæk underlagt et visualitetens tyranni. Og selv om museerne nogen gange inddrager andre sanser, især hørelsen, så er det primært som en ekstra dramaturgisk foranstaltning med hensigt at understøtte de visuelle oplevelser og fortællingerne (props igen!). Men ikke for at undersøge tingenes egne auditive egenskaber.

Der kan være mange årsager til at visualiteten har fået – og stadigvæk har – en så dominerende plads på museerne. Det hænger nok bland andet sammen med at hele vores kultur er blevet så gennemgående visuelt orienteret (og digitaliseringen gør det ikke bedre). At udrede disse årsager ville dog blive en hel forelæsning i sig selv, så det vil jeg undgå her — og bare afslute med at sige at her på Medicinsk Museion er vi startet en modstandsbevægelse mod visualitetens tyranni.

Det betyder sådan set ikke at vi mørklægger udstillingerne. Og vi lægger stadigvæk vægt på lækkert lys (LED-lys selvfølgelig, for at være miljøbevidste). Men vi er også begyndt at interessere os for, hvordan man kan udforske tingene med sanserne, med alle sanser. Her er nogle eksempler:

Billede2I den lydinstallation (Labyrinthitis) som den eksperimentelle lydkunstner Jakob Kirkegaard lavede her på museet for nogle år siden, var ideen netop at undersøge høresansen i dens allermest ekstreme form og omforme den til et stykke musikalsk komposition.

Høresansen vil vi helt sikkert vil vende tilbage til i andre sammenhænge. Tag fx den kendsgerning, at ting af plastic lyder helt anderledes da man håndterer dem end ting af glas og metal. Den hverdagsæstetiske oplevelse af plastic (i køkkenet, klinikken eller laboratoriet) bygger i lige så høj grad på vores auditive perception af tingene som på den visuelle perception.

Billede2Med hensyn til følesansen har lektor Jan Erik Olsén og PhD-studerende Emma Peterson udviklet et forskningsprojekt med udgangspunkt i en stor samling af genstande, som Medicinsk Museion fik fra Blindeinstituttet i Hellerup for et par år siden. Jan Erik og Emma har så at sige trådt ind i rollen som blinde børn, og har ved hjælp af følesansen udforsket et genstandsunivers, som er helt anderledes end det majoritetsbefolkningen normalt ser.

Smagssansen, må jeg erkende, har vi desværre kun strejfet endnu. Den er jo en lidt kedelig sans, fordi den ikke har mere en fem (maksimalt ti) kvaliteter – sød, sur, salt, bitter og umami, og måske også metallisk og astringerende og kalket – så det er begrænset, hvad man kan gøre med den på museet. Men forhåbentlig ikke helt umuligt.

Billede3Og selv om vi laver modstand mod det, jeg kalder visualitetens tyranni, så kunne vi ikke dy os for at invitere fotokunstneren Nikolaj Howalt til at lave en udstilling som eksperimenterer med lyset. Men med den pointe, at i stedet for at bruge lyset til att se på de materielle ting, så bruger Nikolaj de materielle museumsgenstande til at undersøge lysbølgerne og vores sansning af lyset.

Og så til sidst lugtesansen. Det lille udstillingsrum – eller installationsrum skulle vi måske kalde det – som vi åbner i dag under navnet MetaScent, handler altså om lugten. Om kroppens lugt, om lugten af sygdom og om at udstille lugt på museet.

Jeg har jo haft privilegiet at være PhD-vejleder for Anette Stenslund, som fik ideen til rummet og som har konceptudviklet og kurateret det, med Bente Vinge Pedersen som museal projektvejleder. Billede4Og jeg må erkende, at det har været en fantastisk næseåbnende rejse at følge Anettes forskningsprojekt, og at få lov at være med i tilblivelsen af dette — også internationalt set — unikke udstillingseksperiment.

Jeg bruger ordet ’eksperiment’ bevidst. Som universitetsmuseum (vi er jo en del af Københavns Universitet), er Medicinsk Museions mandat ikke nødvendigvis at få største mulige antal besøgende ind gennem dørene. Det vigtigste for et universitetsmuseum er at eksperimentere, konceptudvikle og afprøve teorier i praksis — for derigennem at være med til at åbne nye veje for hvad museer kan lave.

Derfor håber jeg, at I vil se (og lugte) vores nye udstilling som en del af et PhD-projekt og som et eksperiment i at udforske en ny dimension af den materielle tilværelse på museet.

Og derfor er vi også meget, meget åbne for kritiske synspunkter. Så kom endelig med kritik af teksterne, af valget af genstande, af måden vi har præsenteret stoffet på – og hjælp os endelig med at svare på det spørgsmål som studieværten på TV2, Stine Sylvestersen, spurgte Anette om i sofaen i Lorry’s Lounge forleden (se 10’15” og fremover): ”Hvorfor skal man udstille lugte på museum”?

Vi lader spørgsmålet hænge lidt i atmosfæren herinde.

(Tale ved åbningen af udstillingen MetaScent på Medicinsk Museion, onsdag 14. maj 2014).

Se også en kort nyhedsvideo med Anette Stenslund her.

Science in the Arts seminar at Medical Museion on 9 April, 1-2 pm

By Biomedicine in museums

On 9 April 9, the international art laboratory Hotel Pro Forma organizes a seminar discussing the connections between science and artistic process in collaboration with Medical Musieon, the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen, and the research project Robot Culture and Aesthetics (University of Copenhagen).

The point of departure for the discussion is the Japanese visual artist and performer Ayaka Okutsu’s current art installation Meating Ghost that combines art and scientific research. Ayaka Okutsu is artist-in-residence with Hotel Pro Forma from January to April 2014. See more below.


  • Thomas Söderqvist, Director, Medical Museion
  • Lene Juel Rasmussen, Managing Director, Center for Healthy Aging
  • Ayaka Okutsu, Visual Artist, Artist-in-Residence at Hotel Pro Forma
  • Elizabeth Ann Jochum, Founder, Robot Culture and Aesthetics

When: 9. April 2014, from 13.00 to 14.00.
Where: Medical Museion, The Auditorium, Bredgade 62, 1260 Copenhagen

Admission is free, but registration for this event is necessary, as there are limited seats.
The presentations will be in English.

7 April 2014 to Martin Rørtoft,

In Meating Ghost Japanese visual artist Ayaka Okutsu investigates the manipulation of different senses as a way of making the audience aware of their perception. The work is a video installation with binaurally recorded sound, which gives 360-degree perception through hearing. It creates an uncanny sense of dimension and physicality, offering artificial impairment in hearing and seeing.

Meating Ghost will be exhibited Saturday 5 April, 5.30-9 pm at Atelier Hotel Pro Forma, Strandlodsvej 6b, 3rd floor, 2300 Copenhagen S. There is free admission.

Meating Ghost

Galen som geometer og læge

By Biomedicine in museums

Gæsteforsker Kirsten Jungersen her ved Medicinsk Museion har skrevet en artikel om den græske filosof og læge Galens geometriske og medicinske tænkning til et festskrift for den danske klassiske filolog Christian Marinus Taisbak, en skrift som de færreste medicinske museumsfolk nok vil falde over af sig selv.

Målgruppen er Kirstens filologiske kolleger, som ikke kender meget til Galen, i håb om, som hun siger, “at interessere dem for medicinhistorie som jo indeholder så mange menneskelige sider”.

Her er linket:

Touching The Tactile — workshop at Medical Museion, 10-11 April, 2014

By Biomedicine in museums

Next month, Jan Eric Olsén is co-organizing a workshop titled “Touching The Tactile” here at Medical Museion.

The aim of the workshop is “to approach the sense of touch via a series of hands-on investigations and discussions that will take place within the context of art and museum practices”.

By focusing on touch, the workshop draws attention to features that are often overlooked in the fabric of art exhibits and museum displays. More particularly, the workshop will unfurl the experience and knowledge that comes with touch and the things that we touch. These are experiences that span from intimate relationships, over the skills of diverse crafts and the knowledge of specific materials to pedagogical methods and artistic positions that entail the actual touching of objects and works (e.g. museum exhibits for visually impaired people and artworks such as Gonzalez-Torres candy spills). The question is, among others, what kind of knowledge do we speak about with regard to touch? What kind of remembrance is invoked? Is it conceptual, can it be conceptualized or does it rather stand in opposition to concepts and visuality? Likewise, what difference does the actual touching of artworks and museum objects make?

Preliminary programme:

Medical Museion, Thursday 10 April

• 13.00 – 13.20
Welcome: Thomas Söderqvist, Director, Medical Museion
Introduction to the workshop theme: Jan Eric Olsén, Medical Museion

• 13.25 – 14.10
Roundtable presentation, 4 minutes each: background, interests, perspectives…

• 14.15 – 15.00
Teresa Nielsen (Vejen Art Museum): “Vejen Art Museum: a project for the blind – to the delight of many others”.

15.00 – 15.30
Jan Eric Olsén (Medical Museion): “Tactile extracts from the blind-historical collection”.

• 16.00 – 16.45
Lucy Lyons (London): “Touch but don’t touch: touching by proxy”.

• 16.45 – 17.30
Ane Pilegaard Sørensen (Medical Museion): “Between bodies: exhibiting medical materialities”.

• 17.30 – 18.00
Erik Hippe (Copenhagen): Demonstration of medical palpation.

Royal Academy of Arts, Friday 11 April

• 10.00 – 10.45
Zoe Laughlin (Institute of Making and the Materials Library Project, London): Title TBA

•11.15 – 12.00
Michael Renner (Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst, Basel): “Ceramics: intersection of the tactile and the visual”.

•13.00 – 13.45
Tony Hildebrandt (Instituto Svizzero, Rome): “Drawing blindfolded: on the relation of touching and memory”.

• 13.45 – 14.30
Jakob Bak, Jamie Allen, David Gauthier (Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design): Title TBA

• 15.00 – 15.45
Anette Stenslund (Medical Museion): “Touching absence: the smell of nothing”.

15.45 – 16.30
Interlude on touching

• 16.30 – 17.15
Laura Liv Weikop (Danish Design Museum Copenhagen): “The Exhibition Lab : from glass cases to affect”

• 17.15 – 17.45
Final discussion

Contacts: Associate professor Jan Eric Olsén, Medical Museion,

"Så tæt på hinanden som ordene Leber og Leben"

By Biomedicine in museums

På torsdag d. 6. marts kl. 20  kommer den tyske forfatter David Wagner til Medicinsk Museion og fortæller om sin prisbelønnede roman Leben — en intens beretning om tiden før og efter en levertransplantation. Den udkommer på dansk senere i år.

I forbindelse med Goethe-Instituttets program til støtte af oversættelser kommer den tyske forfatter David Wagner til København for at præsentere sin prisbelønnede bog Leben. Arrangementet sker i samarbejde med litteraturfestivalen København Læser og Det anatomiske Teater på Medicinsk Museion. David Wagners roman udkommer på dansk hos Gyldendal i efteråret 2014.

David Wagner fik i 2013 tildelt litteraturprisen på Leipziger Buchmesse. Juryens begrundelse lød: „Lakonisk og med et snert af humor fortæller David Wagner i Leben historien om en levertransplantation. Den normale sygehushverdag og de eksistentielle spørgsmål ligger i denne fortælling lige så tæt på hinanden som ordene Leber og Leben.“

Foto: David Wagner © Susanne Schleyer

David Wagner er født i 1971. Han debuterede i 2000 med romanen Meine nachtblaue Hose og har siden da udgivet en række fortællinger, essays og romaner. Han bor i Berlin.

Foto: København læser

Litteraturfestivalen København Læser har i 2014 valgt kroppen som tema. Kroppen er et af de mest diskuterede begreber i den aktuelle europæiske litteratur – det gælder både inden for skøn- og faglitteraturen. „Forfattere skriver om kærlighed, sex og vold, sundhed, operationer og mange andre spændende emner – og det har de altid gjort.“ (Annette Matthiesen)

Foto: Medicinisk Museion

Efter en kort introduktion af Medicinsk Museions samlingsleder Ion Meyer, taler adjunkt Anna Lena Sandberg med David Wagner om krop og litteratur, om levere og liv. Samtalen foregår på tysk, men vil undervejs blive kommenteret på dansk. Der læses korte tekststykker op fra bogen på både tysk og dansk.

På grund af et begrænset antal pladser kræves der billet til arrangementet. Billetterne kan afhentes gratis fra 15. februar på Goethe-Instituttet eller på Medicinisk Museion ved kassen.

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