Workshop ‘Contemporary biomedical science and medical technology as a challenge to museums’ — preliminary programme

Here is the preliminary programme for the workshop “Contemporary biomedical science and medical technology as a challenge to museums” (15th biannual meeting of the European Association of Museums for the History of Medical Sciences), to be held in Copenhagen, 16-18 September, 2010.

The mobile casino presentations below have been selected by the programme committee of (Ken Arnold, Wellcome Collection, London; Robert Bud, Science Museum, London; Judy Chelnick, National Museum of American History, Washington DC; Mieneke te Hennepe, Boerhaave Museum, Leiden; and Thomas Söderqvist, Medical Museion, Copenhagen) in dialogue with the secretary of the EAMHMS (James Edmonson, Dittrick Museum, Cleveland).

Preliminary programme:

Sniff Andersen Nexø (Dept of History, University of Copenhagen):

Suzanne Anker (School of Visual Arts , New York):
“Inside/Out: Historical Specimens through a 21st Century Lens”

Kerstin Hulter Åsberg (Dept of Neuroscience, Uppsala University):
“Uppsala Biomedical Center: A Mirror and a Museum of Modern Medical History”

Yin Chung Au (Planning and Coordination Centre for Developing Science Communication Industry, National Science Council, Taiwan):
“Seeing is communicating: Possible roles of med-art in communicating contemporary scientific process with the general public in digital age

Adam Bencard (Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen):
“The molecular body on display”

Caitlin Berrigan (independent artist):
“Improvising Glycoproteins: A case study in artistic virology”

Danny Birchall (Wellcome Collection, London):
“Medical London and the photography of everyday medicine”

Silvia Casini (Observa – Science in Society, Venice):
“Curating the Biomedical Archive-fever”

Judy M. Chelnick (Division of Medicine and Science, National Museum of American History):
“The Challenges of Collecting Contemporary Medical Science and Technology at the Smithsonian Institution”

Roger Cooter (Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, UCL) and Claudia Stein (Dept of History, University of Warwick):’
“Visual Things and Universal Meanings: Aids Posters, the Politics of Globalization, and History”

Nina Czegledy (Senior Fellow, KMDI, University of Toronto):’
“At the Intersection of Art and Medicine”

John Durant (MIT Museum):
“Prospects for International Collaboration in Collecting Contemporary Science and Technology”

Joanna Ebenstein (The Observatory, New York):
“The Private, Curious, and Niche Collection: What They can Teach Us”

Jim Edmonson (Dittrick Museum, Case Western Reserve University):
“Collection plan for endoscopy, documenting the period 1996-2010”

Jim Garretts (Thackray Museum, Leeds):
“Bringing William Astbury into the 21st Century: the Thackray Museum and the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology in partnership”

Victoria Höög (Dept of Philosophy and History of Science, University of Lund):
“The Optic Invasion of the Body. Naturalism as an Interface between Epistemic Standards in Biomedical Images and the Medical Museums”

Karen Ingham (School of Research and Postgraduate Studies, Swansea Metropolitan University):
“Medicine, Materiality and Museology: collaborations between art, medicine and the museum space”

Ramunas Kondratas (independent scholar; formerly Division of Medicine and Science, National Museum of American History):
“The Use of New Media in Medical History Museums”

Lucy Lyons (Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen):
“What am I looking at?”

Robert Martensen (Office of History & Museum, NIH):
“Integrating the Physical and the Virtual in Exhibitions, Archives, and Historical Research at the National Institutes of Health”

Stella Mason (independent scholar):
“Contemporary Medicine in Museums: What do our visitors think of our efforts?”

René Mornex and Wendy Atkinson (Hospices Civils de Lyon, Université Claude Bernard Lyon1):
“A large health museum in Lyon”

Jan Eric Olsén (Dept of History of Ideas, University of Lund):
“The displaced clinic: healthcare gadgets for home use”

Kim Sawchuk (Dept of Communication Studies, Concordia University):
“Bio-tourism into museums, galleries, and science centres”

Thomas Schnalke (Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum):
“Dissolving matters: the end of all medical museums’ games?”

Morten Skydsgaard (Steno Museum of the History of Science, Aarhus University):
“Boundaries of the Body and the Guest: Art as a facilitator in the exhibition The Incomplete Child”

Sébastien Soubiran (Jardin des Science, Université de Strasbourg):
“Which scientific world would we like to depict in a 21st century university museum?”

Yves Thomas (Polytech Nantes) and Catherine Cuenca (Université de Nantes and Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris):
”Multimedia contributions to contemporary medical museology”

Maie Toomsalu (Medical Collections, University of Tartu):
“Visitor studies at the Medical Collections of University of Tartu”

Henrik Treimo (Norsk Teknisk Museum, Oslo):
”Invisible World: Visualising the invisible parts of the body”

Alex Tyrell (Science Museum, London):
“New voices: involving your audience in content creation”

Nurin Veis (Museum Victoria, Melbourne):
“How do we tell the story of the cochlear implant?”

Final titles will be announced after the revised/extended abstracts have been submitted by Monday, 2 August.

The workshop starts Thursday, 16 September at noon and ends Saturday, 18 September at 5 pm.

Sessions will be held at Medical Museion and in the Danish Museum of Art and Design. The two meeting venues are situated close to each other in central Copenhagen.

The format of the workshop is informal. In order to focus on discussion and intellectual exchange, each accepted abstract will get a maximum of 8 (eight) minutes for oral presentation, followed by a longer discussion. Extended abstracts (2-5 pages) will be distributed to all registered participants in late August.

The workshop is open to registered participants only. Due to space limitations, we have to impose a first register/first serve policy for attendance.

For details about registration, bank transfer, hotel bookings, special needs, etc., see


The workshop is organized by Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen (;

Workshop: ‘Biomedicine and Aesthetics in a Museum Context’, Copenhagen, August 30 – September 1, 2007

Medical Museion is arranging a cross-disciplinary workshop on ‘Biomedicine and Aesthetics in a Museum Context’, Copenhagen, 30 August – 1 September, 2007.

The conjuncture of biomedicine and aesthetics is a rapidly growing field of artistic practice and academic reflection, dealing with an array of issues, from the public engagement with current biomedicine to methodological overlaps between the practices of artists and laboratory researchers. Museums are key institutions for this hybrid field of inquiry.

The aim of this closed workshop is to help forge new strategies of making sense of and presenting recent biomedicine in museums, especially taking into account the unique difficulties of rendering visible material biomedical practices in their social, cultural, political, aesthetic and scientific complexity.

The workshop will bring together key practitioners from a range of methodological approaches, including artists with a firm understanding of biomedical practice, museologists and material culture scholars, historians of science, art historians and aestheticians, biomedical practitioners with a knowledge of contemporary bioart, and visualisation specialists.

The workshop is limited to invited participants. Confirmed participants include: Ken Arnold (Wellcome Trust, London), David Edwards (Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University), Giovanni Frazzetto (BIOS, London School of Economics), Anke te Heesen (Museum of University of Tubingen), Wolfgang Knapp (Institut für Künst im Kontext, Universität der Künste in Berlin), Sharon MacDonald (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester), Natasha S. Myers (MIT), Arthur Olson (Molecular Graphics Laboratory, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla), Paolo Palladino (Dept of History, Lancaster University), Claire Pentecost (School of the Arts Institute Chicago), Paulo Periera (Institute for Biomedical Research in Light and Image, University of Coimbra), Ingeborg Reichle (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities), Hans Jörg Rheinberger (Max Planck Institute für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin), Miriam van Rijsingen (University of Amsterdam), Calum Storrie (London), Herwig Turk (Lisbon), Stephen Wilson (Conceptual / Information Arts Program, San Francisco State University), Richard Wingate (Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King’s College, London), and Susanne Bauer, Martha Fleming, Hanne Jessen, Camilla Mordhorst, Jan Eric Olsén, and Thomas Söderqvist (all Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen).

Organizing Committee: Martha Fleming, Jan Eric Olsén, and Thomas Söderqvist, all Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen.

Program Advisory Group: Ken Arnold (Wellcome Trust, London), Steve Kurtz (State University of New York, Buffalo), Ingeborg Reichle (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin), Miriam van Rijsingen (Centre for Art and Genomics, Universities of Amsterdam and Leiden), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin), Eugene Thacker (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta), Richard Wingate (King’s College, London).

The museification of the world (reading Agamben’s Profanations)

Couldn’t sleep last night. Giorgio Agamben‘s books use to be the perfect over-the-counter remedy against insomnia, so I began reading his latest collection of essays (Profanations, Zone Books, 2007) and was just about to fall asleep when my eyes fell on this line (on p. 83):

The museification of the world is today an accomplshed fact.

which made me wide-awake again. So here it goes:

The ‘Museum’ in Agamben’s vocabulary is not just a physical place (building) with collections and exhibitions, but “the separate dimension to which what was once — but is no longer — felt as true and decisive has moved” (p. 84). Agamben’s ‘Museum’ thus also includes the hundreds of properties on Unesco’s World Heritage List, national parks and other nature reserves (like Grand Canyon), protected ethnic groups, and so forth.

The ‘Museum’ pace Agamben is “the exhibition of an impossibility of using, of dwelling, of experiencing”, and as such it “occupies exactly the space and function once reserved for the Temple”. Once pilgrims travelled to sacred sites; today tourists “restlessly travel in a world that has been abstracted into a Museum”.

This contemporary mass pilgrimage involves a separation from the world of everyday practice:

the tourists celebrate on themselves a sacrificial act that consists in the anguishing experience of the destruction of all possible use,

Agamben says, and adds (p. 85) that “nothing is so astonishing” as the fact that the 650 million people who visit the ‘Museum’ each year

are able to carry out on their own flesh what is perhaps the most desparate experience that one can have: the irrevocable loss of all use, the absolute impossibility of profaning

Needless to say, Agamben’s analysis of the ‘Museum’ (including museums) is quite different from that of the museum and tourism industry. But this shouldn’t keep us from asking if Agamben is right in suggesting that “the profanation of the unprofanable is the political task of the coming generation” (p. 92)

And if this is the case, what are the implications for museum politics in general? And for Medical Museion in particular? And what would ‘profanation’ imply in the contemporary medical (history) museum field?

How can the resistance of museums to the participatory web be explained?

Mia Ridge, a database developer for the Museum of London, asks some interesting questions on her blog Open Objects about how museums and cultural heritage institutions relate to the ’participatory web’ (web 2.0, social networking sites, user-generated content etc).

Mia’s (perhaps not very unsurprising) impression from speaking with colleagues is that museums are pretty conservative in this respect. But also that there may be differences depending on what kind of institution we’re talking about. (Maybe art historians are more resistant than social historians?) She also wonders how the resistance to the participatory web is expressed. Is it active or passive? And a lot of other interesting questions: “At this point all I have is a lot of questions”.

Note that the resistance Mia has found doesn’t seem to be against the digitalisation of collections or web-presence as such, but specifically against the participatory web.

These are interesting observations, and I wonder: Can this resistance perhaps be understood in terms of an opposition among curators against a perceived profanation of the sacred character of the museum? In the same way as Wikipedia and other user-generated content websites have been viewed with skepticism from the side of many academics — not just because they may contain errors (which encyclopedia doesn’t?), but also because it is a preceived profanation of Academia. (For earlier posts about profanation of the museum as a sacred institution, see here and here.). Any ideas?

Digestive system house (CasAnus)

Dutch designer Joep Van Lieshout’s website displays quite a few interesting works of interest for medical museum designers, like CasAnus (2007), a house which is (reasonably anatomically accurately) shaped like the human digestive system. It’s made to function as a small hotel, with bed- and bathroom. I thought it would be great to enter it through the inflated anus, but there seems to be a door behind the appendix.

Placed in our museum backyard, CasAnus would be a perfect B&B for our guest curators. Or maybe we could convince the Faculty of Health Sciences to purchase 10 different organ systems and put them together as a faculty hotel for guest researchers. (I doubt the National Hospital would like to use them for patient hotel, its probably too provoking for their core users.)