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Biomedicine in museums

Transforming dead bodies into scientific and artistic objects

By September 8, 2008No Comments

Tomorrow, Tuesday 9 September at noon, we’re having a lunch seminar with Sebastian Abrahamsson, doctoral student at Jesus College, University of Oxford. Sebastian will speak about ‘Dead bodies in science and art’ — a topic which is very central to our research and exhibition work here at Medical Museion, so we’re expecting a lively discussion.

Here’s Sebastian’s abstract:

My research is interested in the ways in which dead human bodies are transformed into artistic and/or scientific objects.

As a point of departure, my project maps the work of an artist ( who – together with museum curators, radiologists and Egyptologists – has been working with a mummy child making his body and journey the focus of an art exhibition in a gallery in London. This work brings this particular body through a set of heterogeneous milieus (museum, hospital, studio, and gallery) and environments – each with its own practices, routines and experts – thus changing the significance and interpretation of the body at each stop that it makes: going from museum object to aesthetizised sculptures.

Secondly, I look at the changing status of dead bodies (educational and scientific specimen turning into contested and controversial human remains) in British museums, taking Manchester Museum and their Egyptian collection as an example. Recently three of their unwrapped mummies were covered, provoking massive public reactions (mainly negative). The museum curators had clearly taken a controversial decision, but why this outrage? Here I argue the mummies become the focal point of a sort of public experiment, the outcome of which is still to be decided.

As a final example my project looks at Von Hagens’ Body Worlds as the site where a scientific/educational and artistic ethos come together to stage an encounter with dead bodies, where the above distinction between art and science is more or less erased. Out of these three examples emerges the question concerning how we can experience encounters with dead bodies differently.

If you want to attend, please call our technician Folke Jørgensen at +45 3532 3822, who can give you more detailed info about the location of the seminar room in Fredericiagade 18, Copenhagen, and how to get into the house. Bring your lunch! 

(Image above from Angela Palmer’s website)

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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