At Medical Museion we’re currently working on the project From Kitchen Sink to Museum: Doing and Debating Synthetic Biology, in collaboration with biohackers from the Copenhagen ‘maker space’ Labitat. We have invited the biohackers to use the museum space as their space – as a laboratory where workshops and events will take place, thereby communicating concepts of biohacking. And right now we’re in the process of building up this space.

However the fusion between museum space and hacker space has proven challenging at both conceptual and practical levels. Where a hacker space seems to have its own careless logic – being a space compiled from various ‘second-hand’ furniture and equipment – the museum space will normally be designed in a more deliberate and thought through manner. We have therefore considered different ways in which to incorporate the hacker space into the museum, without loosing the particular ‘hacker-vibe’, and knowing very well that the museum can never function as neutral ground for such a venture.

From the biohackers’ point of view, the main concern in relation to the construction of the space was its basic practical functions: water supply and drain, good working tables, equipment and so on. As museum staff we had further practical concerns, since the space not only has to work for biohacking workshops and events, but also as an actual ‘exhibition room’ where the museum visitors can get an impression of the project, even when the hackers are not around. So we need to think of issues like securing chemicals and equipment, as well as ways of incorporating an explanatory layer of communication into the space, while maintaining the impression of a ‘real’ vibrant hacker space. And this is where it gets tricky. Although a hacker space isn’t usually designed in a deliberate and consistent way, it still has a certain aesthetic feel to it. Precisely because of its casual randomness.

So in order to allow this ‘casual aesthetics’ to unfold, we invited the biohackers along to the storage rooms at the University of Copenhagen (of which Medical Museion is a part) to collect old furniture discarded from the university laboratories. Lamps and shelving we have found in the museums own attic, and additional kitchen cupboards have been bought at Ikea (where choices were – quite naively – based on the question: What would a hacker choose to buy?). Furthermore we are constructing the space step by step, in order to let sudden impulses or changes in practical demands lead the way and shape the development of the space. And the hackers are free to build and construct things they need in their laboratory, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the existing physical frames of the room (the building is listed).

When stepping back and looking at this process, it actually seems that the fusion of museum space and hacker space has somehow turned into a ‘museum-hack’. A hack that also involved the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, where we have gathered the lion’s share of furniture. In the coming months the biohackers will do their actual work in the space – first planning and then conducting workshops and events. We’re exited to follow this process, and off course curious to see what it looks like when our museum gets hacked.

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  • suse cairns

    This sounds fascinating. I look forward to reading more about the project, and seeing more documentation of the space and the conceptual/actual challenges that come up. It would also be great to hear from both museum people and the “hackers” about this process, because I also imagine that the things that are confronted will be perceived quite differently from each side.

    • http://twitter.com/museionist Thomas Soderqvist

      Hi Suse, we’ll definitely write more from different angles — the events will soon be announced and we will document the build-up and the use as it proceeds.