Being a university museum, Medical Museion combines museum practice with research. But we don’t just conduct research on the specific content of our collections and exhibitions, we also engage in research projects on science communication and exhibition media. That is, research on how we interpret and communicate our objects through exhibition media, events, etc. In connection to the development of our forthcoming exhibition Under the Skin, I contribute to the museum’s research on exhibition media with a PhD project on exhibition design.
My PhD project focuses on the material encounter between exhibition object and museum visitor and how to ‘shape’ this encounter by use of spatial design strategies. In the exhibition Under the Skin the encounter between object and visitor is quite unusual, since it takes place between two bodies: the exhibited, medical body and the visitor’s body. Experimenting with what I call spatial-material design strategies, I investigate this ‘extreme case’ and, in close collaboration with the exhibition architect Mads Kjædegaard, try to develop ideas for displaying the human specimens.
For example I experiment with the idea of creating a ‘negative space’ that communicates both the physical shape of the object (the glass canister) as well as the overall idea of producing medical human specimens by extracting organs and tissue from the human body. By displaying the specimen in front of a plaster mould – the negative space of the object – the idea is to point towards this particular act of ‘excavating’ the body.
Another experiment evolves around the idea of ‘the medical gaze’ – the way the medical scientist uses the human specimen to zoom in on a specific lesion or condition. In this test display the objects have been placed behind a glass plate covered with semi transparent foil and with holes cut through it. The holes function as a sort of ‘framing’ of certain areas of the specimens and thereby direct attention towards specific material ‘attributes’. In this case, the massive blood clot in the heart specimen to the left and the delicate texture of the layer of fat covering the heart specimen to the right. Also, the semi transparent foil in some ways resembles human skin, and the cut outs thereby relate to the concept of medical dissection.
By working very intentionally with these kinds of display techniques we wish to create an exhibition that on one hand communicates the scientific, medical gaze on the human body, while at the same time makes it possible for the visitor to connect to the bodies on display in a very immediate and materially embedded way.
These are just a few notes on the design experiments and test displays intended to inspire and inform the overall design of our forthcoming exhibition. More will follow as the project develops.