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Biomedicine in museums

Presence vs. Meaning: Making Sense and/or Sensing the Made

Medical Museion is arranging a three-part symposium over three days (17-19 April, 2007) on the notion of ‘presence’.

In the last couple of years several scholars in the humanities, like Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Eelco Runia, have contributed to our understanding of the conceptual distinction between ‘meaning’ and ‘presence’. The distinction is especially interesting for museological practices and for the understanding of the field of public engagement with health and life sciences.

Much of what has been going on in museum exhibitions in the last decades can be broadly described in terms of ‘production of meaning’, i.e., historical and cultural interpretations and contextualisations of objects, images and documents.

Against these entrenched practices some museologists now emphasise the ‘production of presence’, i.e., establishing a more direct sensual relation with objects, images and texts.

The symposium focuses on the theoretical aspects of the ‘presence’/’meaning’ distinction and its importance for the humanities and aesthetic subjects, and is divided into three independent sessions: 1) an open research seminar with Jens Hauser (Paris) on Tuesday 17 April; 2) a public lecture with Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht on Wednesday 18 April; and 3) a workshop (limited attendance) on Thursday 19 April.

1) Tuesday 17 April, 14-16 (Medical Museion, Fredericiagade 18, 1st floor):

  • Jens Hauser (Paris): ”Presence versus Representation – an approach to art involving live/life biotechnology”

Jens Hauser is an independent writer and exhibition curator who focuses on the interaction between art and biotechnology. He has, among other things, organised the collective exhibition “L’Art Biotech” at the National Centre of Arts and Culture in Nantes (France). His next exhibition is about skin as a technological interface. More about Jens Hauser here.

(research seminar — no registration necessary: the seminar is arranged in co-operation with the School of Visual Arts, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts)

2) Wednesday 18 April, 15-17 (Medical Museion auditorium, Bredgade 62):

  • Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Albert Guérard Professor in Literature, Department of Comparative Literature, Stanford University): “Do Productions of Presence Yield a Presence Culture? A Retrospective”

In Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey (Stanford University Press, 2004), Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht claims that the humanities’ focus on interpretation and the reconstruction of meaning has resulted in a “loss of the world” and that we are no longer “in contact with the tings in the world”. What meaning cannot convey is the effects of “presence” and the different ways that cultural phenomena affect our senses and bodies.

(public lecture, no registration necessary)

3) Thursday 19 April, 10-13

  • Workshop on “Making Sense or Sensing the Made: Rendering the World through Collecting and Display”.

Short presentations by Adam Bencard, Thomas Söderqvist, Dorthe Gert Simonsen, Camilla Mordhorst, Jens Hauser, and comments from Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht.

(closed workshop, max. 25 participants — inquiries to Thomas Söderqvist,

For an earlier post on the ‘presence’ concept, see this link.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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