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Biomedicine in museums

The aesthetics of disgust

Medical museums are often described as temples of horror. Invoking strong feelings of anxiety, fear and disgust, they remind their visitors of the frailty of life, disease and pain, bodily deformations, decay and death.

To make sense of such emotional responses we would need a better understanding of the aesthetics of anxiety, fear and disgust. Katrin Baumgarten at the Royal College of Art in London is one of the pioneers in this field. She is currently investigatng ‘revolting objects’ which exert

a certain ‘macabre attraction’ over the subject, leading to a peculiar absorption in the object and lending a magnetism to this aversion.

Like this electric switch which blurps out some yucky goo when you press it:

Baumgarten claims that the ‘power of disgust’ affects us in every aspect of our lives:

Disgust shocks, entertains and sears itself into memory.

By introducing the aesthetics of disgust as a tool for design, Baumgarten suggests,

one can intensify the user and object relationship through creating paradoxical emotions, going beyond practicality and functionality.

Sounds like a interesting topic for a medical museology phd project.

See also this news item in Wired.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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