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Biomedicine in museums

Planning our Sensuous Investigation Room for close encounters with material things

By February 9, 2012No Comments

Careful readers of this blog may remember we opened an Investigation Room here at Medical Museion in connection with the Copenhagen Culture Night in October 2010.

The room originated on the initiative of postdoc Lucy Lyons as a public venue for her project on drawing as a method to communicate experience with museum objects:

Medical Museion’s Investigation Room opens
Postdoc Lucy Lyons inaugurates our Investigation Room, in which you can learn to see by means of drawing. You are invited to investigate selected artefacts from our collections with a pencil. We don’t care if you “can draw” or not; it’s about using the pencil to investigate physical objects.

The room was used on several occasions — both for sessions with the general public and in connection with a course in Medical Science and Technology Studies in early 2011, where Lucy taught students in the Medical Engineering BSc programme to sharpen their abilities to observe historical medical devices by means of drawing.

Now we’re planning to develop the Investigation Room further. The idea is to create a permanent space in the museum building, where students and the general public are allowed to view, handle and discuss physical museum objects as a way

  • to strenghten their ability to experience the immediate materiality of things through all senses, including vision, hearing, touch, smell etc..
  • to reflect about the use of material objects in the historiography of medicine and science communication.

In other words, we see the room also as a continuation of the succesful Sensuous Object workshop organised by Lucy last September.

But there are also some new research and curatorial projects who want to use the room for somewhat different purposes. For example, Jan Eric Olsén and our new PhD-student Emma Peterson are planning to use this or an adjacent room as a ‘Touch Room’, where they can investigate ideas about touch within the frame of their new Vision & Touch project.

PhD-student Anette Stenslund may be interested in using it for experiments with the experience of smell in museums settings. And curator Niels Christian Vilstrup-Møller and I are thinking about how we could use a room of this kind as a way of displaying some of the museum’s new acquisitions, especially from metabolic research. A kind of combined acquisition room and open storage.

And of course, we are thinking about how to use the room for the new event series ‘Body | Medicine | Object: Close encounters of the material kind’.

The plans for the new Investigation Room (or Object Lab, or Sensuous Workshop, or whatever we may call it) will be intensified during the spring. Tomorrow, we will discuss Jan Eric and Emma’s ideas for a ‘Touch Room’ and then we will bring other ideas from visiting curators.

There are lots of interesting initiatives around the world to learn from. A rather similar project is about to be launced at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University, where Steven Lubar and his colleagues are working on a combination of open storage, study center and seminar room, called CultureLab. They see the lab as a opportunity to display part of the museum’s collections but also to provide hands-on learning opportunities to students (see a couple of posts on Steven Lubar’s blog here, here, and here).

Another project we might learn from is the object handling and touch research project led by Helen Chatterjee at University College London (see H. Chatterjee, ed., Touch in Museums: Policy and Practice in Object Handling) — although we don’t have well-being as our primary aim, there may nevertheless be some interesting overlapping issues involved.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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