Speeches at the opening of the ‘Balance and Metabolism’ gallery and the ‘Genomic Enlightenment’ installation

Thursday 13 October we opened a new gallery (Balance and Metabolism) and a new art installation (Genomic Enlightenment). Here are the opening speeches by Vice-Dean Birthe Høgh, Faculty of Health Sciences, Thomas Söderqvist. and Adam Bencard, who curated the exhibition: Vice-Dean Birthe Høgh: It’s a pleasure for me to take part in the opening of […]

Thursday 13 October we opened a new gallery (Balance and Metabolism) and a new art installation (Genomic Enlightenment). Here are the opening speeches by Vice-Dean Birthe Høgh, Faculty of Health Sciences, Thomas Söderqvist. and Adam Bencard, who curated the exhibition:
Vice-Dean Birthe Høgh:

It’s a pleasure for me to take part in the opening of two new exhibitions at Medical Museion. Since we’re a mix of Danish- and English-speaking guests this afternoon, I will continue in English.
Our faculty — the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Copenhagen — lives very much in the present. But with a keen eye both to the future and to the past.
At the main campus on Blegdamsvej we are about to build a new, 16 stories high, medical science tower (Panumtårnet), designed by one of the leading Danish architects, C.F. Møllers tegnestue, where the faculty’s new research centres for metabolism, stem cells and ageing will be placed. That’s the medical faculty of the future.
But looking forward doesn’t mean we have lost our sense of the past. We are proud of our past. We are right now sitting in the old anatomical theatre in the faculty’s oldest building, the Royal Surgical Academy building from 1787, designed by the then famous royal architect Peter Meyn. For more than 150 years this was the most important building in Danish medical science – many generations of medical doctors were trained here.
This building now harbours the medical faculty’s museum – a museum which tries to connect the past with the present and the future. You enter an old building that vibrates with 225 years of medical history. But when you enter some of the new exhibition rooms, you can almost imagine being moved into a high-tech medical scientific laboratory.
For example, when you came in through the main entrance, you were met by the art installation Genomic Enlightenment, which is made from gene chips that have recently been used in large co-operatlve research project between scientists here at the faculty’s Center for Metabolic Research and the world’s largest genomic sequencing facility, BGI in Shenzhen in China. The art installation hangs from the ceiling in a room designed back in 1787 – but the technology — and the prospects this technology brings to us — points to some of the most exciting aspects of medicine in the future – the possibility of looking into, and even altering, our genetic destiny.
And in a few minutes you will be the first to see a new exhibition, which builds bridges between the past, the present and the future in exciting new ways. Called “Balance and Metabolism”, this new exhibition presents two very different ways of understanding the body:
On the one hand, the classical humoral body, which dominated medical thinking for more than 2000 years, from Hippokrates to the mid 19th century. And on the other hand the chemical body, which is the body that medical science has its focus on today.
With the art installation “Genomic Enlightenment” and the exhibition “Balance and Metabolism” Medical Museion is taking yet another step towards the fulfillment of its ambition to become one of the leading experimental medical museums in the world. Last year Medical Museion received the prestigious Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits, and a few weeks ago the museum was the fourth Danish museum ever to become member of the Best in Heritage Club of Excellence, which only has 120 members altogether in the world.
I am very proud of the fact that the Faculty of Health Sciences and the University of Copenhagen have such an internationally recognized museum among its many departments. I am looking very much forward to seeing the new exhibition and I hope it will receive much attention and thereby contribute to the aim of our faculty’s science communication programme – to create a cultural climate in which medical science will flourish; a cultural climate that is enriched by public engagement with the challenges and excitements of contemporary biomedicine.

Museum Director Thomas Söderqvist:

Today we are launching two new products in our museum portfolio.
Both the installation you saw in the entrance hall (“Genomic Enlightenment”) and the new “Balance and Metabolism” gallery in the neighbouring rooms (which you will soon be able to see) are examples of a new exhibition strategy that we are now implementing here at Medical Museion.
Instead of planning one big temporary exhibition after the other (plus the obligatory permanent galleries) – we have now started a process of what I call “flexible turnover”.
We have 25 or more big and small rooms in this building (and at least as many in the other buildings in the whole building complex here in Bredgade) – and “flexible turnover” means that we are now successively filling these rooms with small, thematic exhibits and galleries that can stand 2-5 years before they are replaced.
So the idea is not to do what the National Museum, for example, is doing when they fill most of the ground floor with a grand chronological narrative of Danish pre-history.
We don’t believe, as firmly as they do, in grand narratives. Actually, we don’t want to be a Grand Museum, even if we had the economic muscles to be one.
Instead we want to put all these big and small rooms at the disposal for exhibition makers of all kinds – designers, architects, historians, scientists, medical professionals, artists etc. – and provide spaces for them to develop their own exhibition ideas in dialogue with us.
The art installation “Genomic Enlightenment” is a case in point. The idea for the installation came up last November in when I sat in a meeting with professor Oluf Borby Pedersen from the new Center for Basic Metabolic Research. Oluf told us how he was using a brand new kind of gene chips for studying the genetic variation behind metabolic diseases, like obesity and type 2 diabetes – a co-operative project between his research group and BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) in Shenzhen in China, the largest genomic sequencing facility in the world.
This was a fantastic oppourtunity. This was the perfect material for an ad hoc art-science installation:
– People at the BGI were enthusiastic and immediately shipped 700 gene chips that had just came fresh out of the sequencing machines.
– Fortunately one of our favourite exhibition architects, Mikael Thorsted, was available at the moment, and we immediately started discussing different way of hanging them in fiber optic cable from the ceiling.
– The manufacturer of the chip itself, the San Diego-based genomic sequencing company Illumina was already involved in a scientific conference on genomics to be held a few months later – and were interested in sponsoring the installation in connection with the conference reception held in this building.
That’s the way it should be in a university museum. Universities are by their very nature experimental, they are always testing new ideas, seeking new knowledge, utilizing opportunities for new and exciting projects.
And their museums should be experimental too. I believe university museums should provide spaces into which designers, artists, researchers from the health sciences, medical companies, and many others are invited to develop new ways of using the exhibition format for public engagement with science. And like in this case, even make installations and exhibitions about science in the making, science which haven’t even been published yet.
The “Genomic Enlightenment” installation and the new gallery on “Balance and Metabolism” we are opening today have both been curated by staff here at Medical Museion. The next exhibit – on surgery and metabolism – has also been conceived in-house.
But we are keen to get proposals from the outside to fill the remaining 20 rooms in the building. Call it museum crowdsourcing if you want. So if you have a good idea, please let us know.
Which brings me to my final point, namely that we are very grateful to the following private sponsors and foundations, who have made “Genomic Enlighenment” and “Balance and Metabolism” possible:
“Genomic Enlightenment” is supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation through the Center for Basic Metabolic Research, and by a sponsorship from the UK branch of Illumina.
“Balance and Metabolism” is supported by Assens Foundation, which operates together with the Danish company Biofarma Logistik, and supports studies in medical history, and by the Novo Nordisk Foundation (also through the Metabolism Center).
Without the generous support of these foundations and sponsors we wouldn’t be here today.
Also, we are very grateful to the Campus Service departments at the Faculty and the University for setting funds aside for renovation of the two rooms, where we have now placed “Balance and Metabolism”, and to the decorator Peter Thylander and his crew for their professional work in returning these rooms back to their original 1787 atmosphere. The 18th century royal architect Peter Meyn would probably have accepted having an exhibition of the humoural body in these rooms, but he would never have dreamt of having a chemical body placed in them.
That’s all from me – thank you.

Assistant Professor Adam Bencard:

Det er en særlig fornøjelse at stå her i auditoriet i det gamle kirurgiske akademi og fortælle om den udstilling, vi åbner i dag – en udstilling, der viser to forskellige forståelser af kroppen i medicinen. For kroppen er, helt bogstaveligt, blevet åbnet og dissekeret lige her. Den er blevet forklaret og undersøgt af generationer af læger og kirurger i disse rum – faktisk er det ene udstillingsrum det rum, hvor kroppene blev klargjort til undervisnings- og demonstrationsbrug. Kroppen har bogstaveligt talt ligget til undersøgelse lige her.
I udstillingen Balance og Stofskifte er det også kroppen, der er genstand for undersøgelse, om end på en lidt mindre blodig facon. Da vi for et års tid siden begyndte arbejdet med udstillingen, viste jeg, at jeg gerne ville udnytte muligheden for at arbejde med emnet kropsforståelse – jeg ville gerne lave en udstilling, der havde vores uofficielle – ”museet for dem, der har en krop” – som udgangspunkt.
Men i stedet for at åbne brystkasser og kigger under huden, så har vi lavet en udstilling, der forsøger at lirke op for to forståelser af kroppen i medicinen – en humoral kropsforståelse, der har rødder i Antikken og som fokuserer på balance og som ser kroppen som et system af væsker; og en kemisk forståelse af kroppen, der starter med den organiske kemi i starten af 1800-tallet, og som i dag med molekylærbiologien er blevet en udforskning af selve livets kemiske grundvilkår.
Udstillingen er ikke som udgangspunkt lavet for at give en pædagogisk introduktion til hvad kroppen er, sådan i lærebogsforstand. Den er snarere et forsøg på at bruge genstande fra medicinens historie og nutid til at sætte fokus på de måder som lægevidenskaben er med til at forme vores opfattelse af os selv og den krop, vi har.
For medicinen og sundhedsvidenskaben spiller en afgørende rolle i dannelsen af vores kropsforståelser – den er en uomgængelig del af vores fælles kulturramme.
Lægevidenskaben træder ikke bare ind i vores liv når vi er syge og forlader os når vi bliver raske igen. Nej, den er med til at forme forståelsen af kroppen, både på det helt personlige plan, for hver enkelt af os, og hele vejen op til de mest generelle samfundsstrukturer – alt fra vores politik den møde vi forstår os selv på og møder hinanden. Lægevidenskaben er også kropskultur og kropspolitik.
Lægevidenskabens forståelser af kroppen kommer under huden på os.
Det har været tydeligt at mærke det forløbne år mens arbejdet med udstillingen har stået på. Efterhånden som jeg dykkede ned i henholdsvis den humorale og den kemiske krop, så begyndte det at smitte af på mine kropsoplevelser. Når jeg var stresset så følte jeg cortisonet og adrenalinet pumpe rundt i systemet med efterfølgende hjertebanken og klamme håndflader. Når jeg fandt en god ting på magasinerne, eller vi i udstillingsholdet fandt en god løsning på et problem i samarbejde i udstillingslokalerne, så vandrende jeg rundt på en blød dopaminsky i et stykke tid. Min krop blev kemisk for mig. Men samtidig havde den humorale model også sine effekter. Når jeg stod med snue og hovedet fyldt med snot og slim, så var der intet jeg hellere ville have en udrensende behandling, og jeg pakkede mig ind i varme trøjer for at modvirke den flegmatiske kulde. Og fokus på balancen, ikke mindst. Og på livsstil.
De kropsforståelser, vi bliver præsenteret for, spiller ind i de måder vi oplever og fortolker vores egen krop. De bliver en del af os, de kommer under huden. Og de har det med at blive usynlige for os, fordi de kommer så tæt på. Og det er en af grundene til, at vi her i huset ser på sammensmeltningen af medicin og kultur som en af vores vigtigste opgaver, og som denne udstilling er et lille skridt i arbejdet med.
Vi har forsøgt at lave en udstilling, der tager udgangspunktet i kroppen alvorligt, og derfor engagerer sanserne først. Vi har forsøgt at lave en opstilling, der engagerer beskuerens fantasi og nysgerrighed, efterhånden som man går rundt og ser på genstandene. Og vi håber, at udstillingen, netop ved at engagere sanserne og kroppen kan få beskuerens personlige kropsforståelser i tale. For vi har alle sammen en lang række af kropsforståelser, der cirkulerer usynligt rundt i vores indre system – uanset om det er humoralt, kemisk eller noget helt tredje.
Vi startede for et årstid siden, med to helt nyistandsatte og meget bare rum. Der har været en lang og interessant proces at finde balancerne mellem genstande, tekst og udstillingsdesign, og vi har været mange, der har investeret tid, faglighed og engagement i alle faser af udstillingen. Derfor vil til slut vil jeg meget gerne lige bruge lejligheden og talerstolen til at sige tak til dem, der har været en ligeså stor del af arbejdet med udstillingen som mig – tak til arkitekt Mikael Torsted, tak til konservator Nanna Gerdes, tak til museumsinspektør Niels Vilstrup Møller, tak museumsinspektør Bente Vinge Pedersen, tak til vores leder, Thomas Söderqvist, tak til Sven Erik Hansen for råd og faglig diskussion og i det hele taget tak til alle her på Medicinsk Museion.