Category Archives: recent biomed

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?