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Biomedicine in museums

Museums Showoff next Thursday — including "Why the very idea of a science museum is just plain silly, but if we’re going to have them they should be less like Harrods and more like a junk yard"

By January 9, 2013No Comments

I just read about a great museum initiative in London — the Museums Showoff.

You may have heard about Science Showoff — a forum for all kinds of people working with science communication, who meet and share their work in a performance-based way, “and then chew it over with a pint in hand”. It’s very participatory, non-hierachical, and democratic — in other words, very Multitudinous.

Museums Showoff is the sister to Science Showoff, using the same basic idea and format “but filling the stage with people who work in, study or are interested in museums, libraries and collections rather than science” — “an open mic night featuring curators, conservators, librarians, collectors, Museum Studies students, archaeologists, social historians, educators, multimedia developers, explainers, visitors, theorists and everyone else associated with museums and library special collections” (I think they’ve listed all the relevant categories).

The format for this low-budget bimonthly event is emulation-worthy:

There are ten slots for presentation — each slot is 9 minutes each; some are for invited guests, others for first-come-first-slotted. After a short intro the signed-up performers take to the stage, where they might:

Show and tell:

  • Their new acquisition
  • Their favourite or a ‘star’ object from their collection
  • An interesting find from the stores
  • Something they’ve conserved
  • Their current research
  • Run a group handling session
  • Tell us about something they’ve dug up
  • Describe the weirdest thing in their collection


  • Their idea for their next exhibition
  • The most recent object their collection should acquire or dispose of
  • Road test ideas for exhibitions/public programmes/galleries
  • Tell us what a museum should be collecting and how
  • Tell us about research into what museums are doing and why
  • Demonstrate new digital projects/ideas/concepts

Or generally show off :

  • Showing a film or oral history project they’ve just made
  • Trying out a new demo or interactive exhibit
  • Practicing a new museum-based comedy set
  • Reading their latest poem/performing an interpretive dance about their museum work
  • Performing an 9-minute play aimed at museum audiences
  • Play their new song about the Tudors
  • Re-enact an historical event
  • Tell us about the latest behind-the-scenes goings on at their organization…

Or anything else!

With intermissions etc. they finish 2 1/2 hours later and then go over to beer and chatting.

Next Museums Showoff takes place on Thursday 17 January, with the following presenters:

Steve Cross – will be our compère for the night. What will he say about the Science Museum this time?

Katherine Curran – “Heritage Smells or The Terrible Fate of Tropical Ken”. Delivered entirely in verse, this will be both a description of my research project and an account of the dreadful things that happened to a Ken doll who found himself in one of UCL’s laboratories.

Danny Birchall ­– Why wrap the Freud Museum in ropes made of doll’s hair? Danny will present a lightning tour of artists’ interventions in museum spaces, from notorious pisstaker Marcel Duchamp to neo-neuroticist Alice Anderson.

Alice Bell ­– Why the very idea of a science museum is just plain silly, but if we’re going to have them they should be less like Harrods and more like a junk yard.

Alison Boyle & Harry Cliff – Higgs bosons, hadrons, high-energy physics … it’s a huge and incredibly complex machine, with lots of people busy doing things that nobody else understands. But that’s enough about the Science Museum. Find out what happened when Harry met Ali and the world of museums collided with the world of CERN.

Researchers in Museums – Gemma Angel, Sarah Chaney, Suzanne Harvey, Felicity Winkley, Lisa Plotkin, Tzu-i Liao and Alicia Thornton are a UCL-based gestalt entity whose mission is to engage the public with their research and UCL’s museum collections in ways never before explored. Bringing together their expertise in diverse subject areas, the team presents “Foreign Bodies” – their very first interdisciplinary group-curated exhibition, which opens in February 2013 at UCL.

Peter Ride – #Citizencurators was a twitter project that ran during the 2012 Olympics organised by Museum of London and Univ of Westminster. It’s goal was to collect Londoners response to living in London during the games – a social history for the museum collection. But it also also asked the question how can a museum collect tweets – as database, a visual object or a string of individual lines?

Hayley Kruger – is going to talk about some of the stranger steps on the path that paved the way to modern blood donation and provides a salutary warning of why it is unwise to be related to an anatomist and predecease them…!

The Ministry of Curiosity – will be recruiting for the newly founded collective dedicated to London’s museum social scene.

Jason Webber – Come the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, which Museum will give you the best chance of survival? Who has the collection and venue to hold off the slaving hordes of the un-dead?

At the Wilmington Arms, 69 Rosebery Ave, Clerkenwell, London, starting at 7pm.

Do I need to say I hope they’re live-streaming the whole event. Otherwise, I’m seriously contemplating producing some carbon dioxide to get a chance to hear Alice Bell argue for why science museums should be more like junk yards than department stores.

(Junk yard poster, credit:

(Thanks to David Pantalony for reminding me that you don’t easily burn carbon dioxide off 🙂

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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