Sensuous Object Workshop 29-30 September 2011– Report

My idea for organizing the Sensuous Object workshop began over a year ago. It originated with my interest in (re) placing the object as central and focusing on the sensuous object, i.e. how we sense objects, come to know them, are affected by them and their presence, how objects can become outcomes of research, how […]

My idea for organizing the Sensuous Object workshop began over a year ago. It originated with my interest in (re) placing the object as central and focusing on the sensuous object, i.e. how we sense objects, come to know them, are affected by them and their presence, how objects can become outcomes of research, how they are used as subjects of research, or ways research is conducted through them.
There were three aims of the workshop.
The 1st was to re focus on objects rather then just end results and give what is often seen as ‘dirty data’ an opportunity to reclaim central position.
The 2nd was to make use of Medical Museion’s collections as a research resource. By allowing researchers access to objects specific to their research, artefacts, most of which will never be put on public display, had the chance to be used in less conventional ways and the diversity of the collection utilized.
The 3rd aim was to offer a workshop format that allowed presenters the opportunity to break from usual conference formats and experiment, take risks and engage with objects and other researchers. Those attending and not presenting were also expected to be active in the participation of the workshop and not be passive during the two days.
Speakers and programme
Here is the programme and here are the speakers’  abstracts.
6 people were invited to present and in addition to this 4 referees selected 11 presentations from 29 abstracts and Anette Stenslund‘s help was appreciated during this process.
The presenters were from a wide range of backgrounds including technology, design, medical history, artistic research, phenomenology, Eastern cultural studies, music and cultural theory, contemporary dance, architecture, textile design and countries represented were Italy, Denmark, Sweden, UK, US, Austria, UAE, Egypt and Norway. There were 4 PhD students and the rest were senior academics.
Objects that were used from the collection included; Prosthetics, a leg and an arm, Laennec’s stethoscope, 2 wooden stethoscopes, percussion instrument, a 1950s stethoscope psychiatric restraining belts, a human skull, pottery from the apotek, a teaching skeleton and human torso, bottles from the smelling test kit, birthing and abortion tools, surgical clamps and suturing tools,hip replacements, an early X ray and a 1990s Sex education kit.
Objects from the blind collection used were an angel font, a fly and a typewriter. Teeth from a walrus, a warthog, a hippo and a big cat were borrowed from the Zoological collections, a teaching skeleton and anatomy torso from Panum Institute and a psychiatric restraining belt was from Middlefart Museum.
Objects brought by presenters were; a gas mask, pillows, wearable technology prototypes,vibrators,minerals,photographs, a phantom, handmade pottery mugs, fabric,rose water and surgical sheets and gloves.

On appearance presentations fell neatly into the categories about the senses; emotional, blind, touch, seduction, sound, movement, sight, and smell but were significantly more sensuous than this. They can be seen loosely in the following way; technological where fear and emotion were being invoked by objects and were being reflected by others.
Touch as educational, as diagnostic where an object is used to diagnose and objects that are used as part of healing. The sensuous and the sensual were examined in objects used to prevent movement, objects used to record and encourage movement and objects used to cure ailments and cure hysteria.
Rituals of making, experiential knowledge and performativity were overarching themes of the second day. The objects of sound were presented in terms of tactile voices and inner voices, objects for making sound and objects embodying or creating sound. The body was as object and awareness of it and its presence were presented, as was the invisible functional object inside the body and the object and space around the body. The appreciation of aesthetics and materials was highlighted. Lastly objects about smell were in fact transformative objects with the power of embodying experiences of life and death, where objects became subjects and subjects became objects. 
The question where is the object? was raised and whether the senses defined the object or the object defined the senses.
The 2 days were the culmination of a collaborative effort. Rather than presenters giving recycled papers given at many other events, I worked closely with each of them helping them with choosing objects, adapting their presentations. For some presenters this involved more in depth and lengthy work to acquire the objects specific to their requirements. Working together in this way was a unique experience for myself and for those presenting and working on seventeen individual projects to a greater or lesser degree was a challenge.

Importantly, this format allowed collaboration within the Museion to flourish. Using objects in this unique manner, in the form of a sort of creative curation, would not have been possible without the help and support of Ion Meyer, Head of Collections. His interpretation of speakers’ requests and ability to locate suitable objects was essential.
Practical aspects beyond any normal workshops/conferences were paramount. Some objects were borrowed from other museums and items were used from Zoological collection, blind collection in Hellerup, Middlefart Museum and teaching objects were used from Panum.
Along with Ion, Jesper Vaczy Kragh, Niels Christian Vilstrup, Jan-Eric Olsén and Charlotte Vikkelsø Hansen helped arrange for these artefacts to be brought to the museum and used by presenters and Charlotte ensured any last minute cleaning was done in time.
Some objects chosen by presenters could not be handled without gloves, some could not be handled at all and some could be passed around for all participants to handle. And there were a lot of objects used all of which needed to be ready for each different presenter throughout the two days. This would not have happened without the participation of Jacob Kjærgård who saw to it that all the objects were safely delivered, appropriately used and returned afterwards.
There has been a lot of positive feedback on the event. There was a general consensus that the sensuous object tapped into the zeitgeist of research in many current fields of study and the format of a ‘safe’ object focused environment that gave opportunity for experimentation and encouraged participation was found to be beneficial and greatly appreciated and the Sensuous Object Network has formed as a consequence.
The workshop was extremely productive and produced a participatory, vibrant atmosphere. A wide variety of topics that would otherwise have not been brought together, were presented in different ways and speakers made use of a range of fascinating objects. Working closely with presenters and with the staff from Medical Museion was a unique and rewarding experience for me, and lead to a successful and interesting event.
Here is Laura Gonzalez’s blog post where you can read a presenter’s summary of the event. Photos can from the workshop can be found at here.