Medical Museion

Bente Pedersen

Senior curator

Medical Museion

Fredericiagade 18, 1310 Copenhagen K

Copenhagen, Denmark
Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits 2010

Bringing contemporary biomedicine into the museum

During the past 10 years Medical Museion at the University of Copenhagen has been transformed from a traditional medical historical museum with an exclusive focus on the history of medicine to a research-based university museum that seeks new ways of communicating and engaging the public with contemporary medicine.

First, we are trying to transcend the traditional division between universities as research and teaching institutions, and museums as primarily institutions for the collection, preservation and engagement with the cultural heritage. We aim to base all our curatorial work on museological research in the broadest sense and let exhibition making and curatorship inspire new research projects.

Secondly, this transformation means that we are focusing our efforts on collecting, preserving and displaying the culture of contemporary medical science and clinical practice, using the medical heritage of the past as a backdrop and historical perspective on the present.

Third, we are exploring the material and visual culture of contemporary biomedicine in ways that emphasise the sensuous dimension of medical science and practice, trying to present medicine both as a ls"culture of meaning' (explaining) and a ls"culture of presence' (immediacy); accordingly both history and aesthetics are integral to curatorial work.

The Dibner-awarded exhibition "Split + Splice: Fragments from the Age of Biomedicine" was the culmination of the first major combined research and curatorial project at Medical Museion that aimed to unfold this vision of science communication. In 2006, Medical Museion received a major grant for a three-year project titled ls"Biomedicine on Display', allowing four post docs and PhD students under the direction of professor and museum director Thomas Souml;derqvist to focus on the recent history of Danish biomedicine, 1955-2005. As part of the historical study, the researchers collected material objects relevant to their individual research topics.
During the final year of the ls"Biomedicine on Display' project, the group worked on a concluding exhibition. The artist/designer Martha Fleming, who had earlier made innovative exhibitions at Science Museum, was hired as supervisor and creative exhibition curator. The team also included a professional exhibition designer (Mikael Thorsted, Studio 8, Copenhagen) and several staff members at Medical Museion.

The result was not an ordinary cultural historical exhibition but an innovative hybridization of science, art and design exhibition, an exploration of the complex world of biomedicine. As Martha Fleming explained on Medical Museion's blog: "It is not exactly science communication; it will not teach you comprehensively about the field of biomedicine. It is not exactly old-fashioned history of science; it will not show you a triumphalist progression of miraculous discovery. It is not exactly an art exhibition; it will not leave you with a sense that you have seen inside a solo mind."

What the exhibition offered was an analytic exploration of what the exhibition team called "the engine room of biomedicine". The exhibition was structured around the scientific methodologies of investigation, intervention, inquiry, analysis, visualization, modeling etc. These methodologies were reflected in the choice of artifacts and their functionality. The artifacts were on display in exhibition installations: A rack full of containers designed to contain the body liquids for further investigation in the laboratory; an ls"avalanche' of computers that had generated millions of data to be further analysed; and an isle of instruments designed to measure the body's functionalities. Visitors were given a "User Manual" to guide them through the exhibition, indicating that the audience should expect an experience of biomedicine rather than just historical or scientific explanations.

 "Split +Splice" crossed borders in many ways and showed a way of bringing contemporary medicine into a museum context. Medical Museion is now building further upon this experience of the ls"Biomedicine on Display' project. We have taken up the challenge to offer new ways of relating to and comprehending an invisible world of science that takes place on levels we cannot see or grasp with our senses. We are looking for ways of engaging with hard science in an aesthetic and material way that transcend traditional didactical exhibitions. 


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