Sensuous objects

15 October 2011 | , ,

The conference was an outstanding success.

It all started early on, as I walked through a warm September Copenhagen towards the stunning Medical Museion.MedicalMuseion-2011-10-15-12-28.jpg

The two day workshop took place in the apt and rather elegant medical theatre, a comfortable learning space with a great colour palette. Everything looked beautifully put together to me, from the decor to the Danish pastries we had for breakfast.

Sensuousness started with Lucy Lyons and Thomas Söderqvist’s welcome. It continued with the conference proper, at 9.40, with Mats Fridlund’s airmindedness and gas masks, and with Secil Ugur’s stress technology. Jan-Eric Olsén really impressed me with his thinking in action about the blind collection – which, incidentally, one could not touch – and his conversation. To the sources! he urged, and he liked Pessoa.

After lunch James Edmonson took us through the history of medical examinations, the distance between the hand and the ear of the doctor to the skin of the patient. He mentioned the Salpétrière and the word ‘embonpoint’ (plumpness, nice!) and his work told of a very curious study on relations. This was picked up by Linda Thomson, who explored if patient’s wellbeing was enhanced through handling museum objects by using a PANAS (Positive affect and negative affect) and VAS (Visual Analogue) scales. The qualitative material reported by the patients was very moving.

Then, after coffee, I wore a hysterics restraining belt (an absolute fantasy of mine), watched a little bit of the film Possession and looked through a speculum. My day just got better. I received generous responses, people suggested books – which I have followed up and thanks to their thinking, found some gems – and, overall, what I did enhanced conversation. It was a joy, and a privilege. Thank you for inviting me, Lucy.


Bernd Kraeftner followed, with squirrel pillows and recordings of the laughter of coma patients and, at this point, it dawned on me just how important the work of artists in hospital is. In vain, I tried to sway him towards the unconscious and Freud. He is from Vienna so I thought it would be easy … Jennifer Nomura van der Grinten was the perfect closure before the drinks reception. She spoke of vibrators in Japan, but not the ones you are thinking: face vibrators and the cult of the image. It was, simply, fascinating and I could have listened to her all day. She had great images and objects too. It was disturbing to handle them, as their weight and shape reminded me of kitchen mixers and other cooking implements. A lot of the conference was uncanny, though, the homely made strange and the strange brought peculiarly close …

Day two began with Ansa Lønstrup take on sound and one of my favourite artists: Pipilotti Rist (who currently has a solo show in London at the Hayward Gallery and which I will visit in November). She was followed by Eduardo Abrantes who took sound a step further and devoided it of image, of direct image in any case, as he manipulated an object away from our eyes, magnifying the sound. It was sensuously uncomfortable, as things in a medical theatre should be. Successful and interesting, like his PhD thesis. Brian Dougan made coffee taste better by engaging in the phenomenology of creating cups to drink it. I had a very strong reaction to one of them, so strong that I did what I rarely do: I asked him if I could keep it. Coffee does really taste better in his cup and I owe him one.

Per Roar made us move and brought a dancer with him. How lucky to be amongst kindred spirits. Could you get any more sensuous than a dancer exploring the body?


Carsten Friberg made us play and think about the room we were in by giving us mischievous games: to touch the shoulder of the person we knew the longest, of the person whose dress we liked best, of the last person we spoke to yesterday … In this way, he brought to attention the most astonishing object we handled during the workshop: the room we were in.


After lunch, Marlene Little’s presentation allowed us to think and touch something I had no concept of: a hip replacement. She showed it in X-ray, object form and artistic photograph in a way that reminded me of the language games of Joseph Kosuth’s conceptual art work. Her paper was meta-linguistic and made me think a lot about the conference format itself. Louise Whiteley also made us work by making us travel to different rooms and handle and look at a rich variety of objects related to X-rays. We handled heavy, very present, phantoms and spoke of ghosts. She recommended me two awesome novels and, with her work, I think she has enormous potential to write her own. Her presentation made me dream. Coffee brought me back (a little reluctantly).

Anette Stenslund followed the narrative theme. She got the director of the museum to lay down on an operating table and play corpse while she spoke of life and death in relation to the green medical paper covering bodies. Her narrative worked, oh boy, it did work. She wrote her paper beautifully, she delivered it even better. I really hope to listen to her again. She also puts us on the scent of smell, which Anne Krefting followed. She brought us back to the here and now, to corporate research on smells and how they make us feel, to the performance of smell in cultures, in the high street, to Actor-Network theory. And to art. It was wonderful.


A speaker cancelled at the last minute and the end of the conference could not have had a better turn: a collegiate, communal sharing of a view of Lucy’s drawings, which I had not seen since her excellent PhD exhibition. Now, that was as much of a celebration as the beers we had afterwards. I hope the idea of the book gets off the ground, so this work can be shared beyond the 45 privileged people who were there.


Photos by Lucy Lyons, Louise Whiteley and others. More photos of the event here:

3 thoughts on “Sensuous objects

  1. What a great series of workshops. Only wish I could have been there. Thanks for your reflections Laura

  2. Thank you, Hannah. It was one of the most interesting workshops I have ever been to. Really inspiring and it would have been more so with you there! Hopefully we can meet soon.

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