Exhibition Review Article
The Power of presence: the ‘Cradle to Grave’ installation at the
British Museum

Camilla Mordhorst*Museum of Copenhagen Abstract
The Living and Dying gallery opened at the British Museum five years ago.
Praised by critics, this award-winning exhibition is one of the most well attendedexhibitions at the Museum. A visit to the gallery makes it apparent that it is thecontemporary art installation, Cradle to Grave, that is particularly attractive to thevisitors. The aim of this article is to explore why this installation is so effective.
However, rather than evaluating visitor responses to the installation, this articleanalyses the fundamental premises that make it so successful. Using threedifferent theories of ‘proximity’, ‘presence’ and ‘flow of materials’ I therebyattempt a deeper understanding of the installation’s particular intensity. Thus,this article presents a type of exhibition analysis that tries to incorporate the‘meaning production’ potential of an exhibition, i.e., what an exhibition tells, alongwith the exhibition’s capability to produce ‘presence’ and ‘material grounding’,i.e., what it does.1 Key words: Cradle to Grave, materiality, presence, proximity, exhibition analysis.
In 2003, the British Museum opened the Living and Dying gallery, which explores the variousways in which people deal with life’s everyday challenges, achieve well being for themselvesand their communities, and come to terms with death. In huge glass display cases materialsfrom New Zealand, Ghana, the Solomon Islands, Mexico, and North America are on display.
Objects range from ancient sculptures and masks to modern artefacts whose function is to avertillness, danger and trouble. Centrally located in the gallery is the specially commissioned artinstallation, Cradle to Grave, created by the artist group Pharmacopoeia.2 In 2004 the gallery won the Museums and Heritage Show 2004 Award for Excellence for best permanent exhibition and five years later it still attracts the public’s attention. Mostrecently, The Guardian journalist Jonathan Jones, in his art-blog, praises the gallery butcriticizes Pharmacopaeia’s installation for drawing all the attention: ‘Eighty per cent of visitorsgive all their attention to the installation by Pharmacopaeia and ignore – or virtually ignore – themysterious objects in the other cases’ (Jones, July 24, 2009). To some extent this articleconcurs with Jones’s point of view, namely that the installation is indeed, powerful. However,instead of criticizing the art work for its dominant impact, this article tries to excavate the meansby which the installation achieves its impact with the public. By analyzing, at a more theoreticallevel, what is happening in the installation, it will be suggested that the installation’s effectivenesscan be seen in the encounter between what the installation tells and what it does. Or, put slightlydifferently, I argue that the installation works because it uses its materiality and presence tocreate an unusual encounter between normally distinctive categories, like time and space, mindand material, and meaning and presence. In investigating this aspect of the installation I am,of course, putting in question distinctions and dichotomies which are fundamental to westernmodes of thought (see e.g. Gumbrecht 2004: 21-49).
The challenge of the exhibition analysis
In the following pages the reasons for the effectiveness of the installation will be examined.
However, this is not an easy task. As with other types of material culture studies, any exhibition museum and society, Nov. 2009. 7(3) 194-205 2009, Camilla Mordhorst. ISSN 1479-8360
museum and society, 7(3)
analysis is in danger of either over-emphasizing the social and cultural construction of thephenomenon, i.e., its concrete appearance and materiality have a tendency to disappear fromthe analysis, or conversely the phenomenon’s material foundation and appearance is taken forgranted as part of an agenda that does not adequately take account of the social and culturalframing of the situation. The fact that the exhibition per se is both a place where signification‘is constructed, maintained, and occasionally deconstructed’, to quote Greenberg et al., but alsooperates through its tangible and physical appearance, renders a balanced analysis even morenecessary. Perhaps this is the reason why, despite numerous studies of ‘museum culture’ in itsbroadest sense, there is still a call for a theoretical language and methodology in exhibitionanalyses (see, e.g., Greenberg et al. 1996: 2).
However, some notable exceptions in this regard are worth mentioning. Using concepts such as ‘resonance’ and ‘wonder’ (Greenblatt 1991), ‘the visible’ and ‘the invisible’ (Pomian1994), ‘realism’ and ‘representation’ (Jordanova 1993) and ‘aesthetic interaction’ (Hein 2006),the exhibition’s hybrid constitution, falling between the material and the discursive, has beencaught and identified, methodologically and theoretically. The primary aim of this article, thus,is to contribute to this kind of methodological and theoretical development, i.e. to develop anexhibition language which includes the discursive aspects of an exhibition interpretation withoutexcluding those qualities of an exhibition which are ‘non-representational’, i.e. are connectedto the bodily and intellectual experiences related to the physical substances, the immediatesurroundings and being in a space. To take all that into account, however, it is necessary tointroduce other concepts and theories from related fields. This, it is hoped, will expand our waysof understanding and analyzing the exhibition as a cultural phenomenon in general and comecloser to uncovering what it is, specifically, that is at stake in the installation Cradle to Grave andwhere in its effectiveness resides.
The installation
The Living and Dying gallery displays howdifferent cultures throughout the world seekto maintain health and well-being. A ravenhead from a totem pole, a thousand-year-old giant stone sculpture of a human figurefrom Easter Island and contemporaryMexican papier-mâché sculpturesrepresenting the four elements of the BiblicalApocalypse in skeletal form are seen amongother ethnographic highlights and witnessesabout peoples’ approaches to avertingillness, danger and trouble. Huge glasscases on the floor and along the wallsexhibit a variety of exquisite historical andethnographic objects. In the middle of theexhibition is the installation Cradle to Grave,from 2003 [fig. 1]. The installation consistsof a long, low glass case, in which can beseen a life’s supply of prescribed drugssewn into two lengths of textile, rolled outas a fictional biographical life course of anaverage man and woman. Each lengthcontains over 14,000 pills, tablets, lozenges Fig.1. 28,000 pills in rows. The Cradle to
Grave installation by Pharmacopoeia (Susie number prescribed to every person in Britain Freeman, Liz Lee & David Critchley) 2003. during their lifetimes. On either side of the (Photo: the Trustees of the British Museum). net of pill rows, are objects and photos from various males’ and females’ lives, that representan ordinary man and woman’s health and illness. Among the objects can be seen ultrasound Camilla Mordhorst: Exhibition Review Article The Power of presence: the ‘Cradle to Grave’ installation at the British Museum images, lost milk teeth, an asthma inhalator, condoms, an ash tray, a hearing aid, artificial teethand an artificial hip joint. Photographs in colour and in black and white, taken from a variety offamily albums from the 1930s to the present day, are arranged chronologically. There are wellover 100 personal photographs which show typical and touching scenes of every day life. Eachphoto is accompanied with a hand-written caption written by the photographer, explaining theparticular scenario of the picture [fig. 2].
Fig. 2. The installation, photos displayed at the perimeters of the case, attracts the visitors’
attention. (Photo: Camilla Mordhorst, 2008).

Usually we perceive the course of life as an extension of time, but here life is an extension inspace. The abstract ordering of the life course in time is replaced with a concrete physical lengthof a fabric in a room. The life course as a spatial extension is underscored by the abrupt stopof the woven pill tapestry of the man’s life. In his seventy-sixth year, the fabric suddenly stops,leaving untied ends. A label says laconically: ‘Unexpectedly dies from a stroke.’ On the woman’sside, the fabric is rolled at the end. We understand that she is still living at eighty-two years old,but for how long we can only guess from the size of the rolled fabric.
The proximity
It is a peculiar feeling to witness an overview of an entire life course, from entering the world toleaving it again, all in one glance. The many photos from various family albums depicting majorevents and intimate moments emphasise this feeling of grasping life in toto as we know it andrecognise it. At the same time, the thousands of pills expose and recount every single day ina life. They remind the visitor of the repeated daily routines that usually never come to mind whenlooking at the course of a life, but which nevertheless fill the days. The pills create a kind of‘biographical proximity’, which offers another view of the life course that we usually do not see.
museum and society, 7(3)
The use of the concept ‘proximity’ in this context is inspired by John Gabriel Granö. In his classicwork from 1929, the Finnish geographer argued that if we are to understand the landscapeproperly, we should not just rely on the abstract simplification of cartography. It is also necessaryto identify the perceived landscape in its immediate incalculable presence, where it becomesmaterials and things, tactile experiences, sounds, smells, details and complexity, where thematerial life becomes as intimate and involved as it gets. The installation creates this kind ofproximity by including every single one of the pills we must take in our lives, and the wide rangeof snapshots from all sorts of situations and families create a confusing variety of feelings,moods and impressions that depict actual incidents and intimate situations. The images aresupplied with personal comments such as: ‘John and Ruby, just a few hours old’, ‘Da, da. In thepaddling pool with my sister’, ‘Dec. 99. Terry’s beads trim by Rosie - probably 4 weeks fromdeath from cancer at this point’ or ‘Ben + I dancing on Harlech Beach (or are we fighting?)’. Thehandwritten notes appear un-edited in their familiar form of address. They seem to expressspontaneous and personal comments on the event by the owner of the photographs. Theintimate universe is supported by the displayed objects that relate to the domain of privacy:medical certificates, condoms, a mammography, prostheses etc. We are very close to afirsthand experience of the life course, almost ‘in it’, just as Granö is in the middle of thelandscape.
Instead of looking at life from the outside, distanced, as a linear process in time, the installation makes us ‘enter’ the life course, and perceive it as an extension in space. One ofGranö’s theoretical successors, geographer Torsten Hägerstrand, was in the habit of cyclingaround the countryside, so that he might come closer to the reality of space (Nilsson 2007: 27-8); similarly, the visitor to Cradle to Grave can walk along a life course, at a slow pace or rapidly,back and forth, observing one of life’s minor and intimate routines. In that case, it seems thatthe body rather than the mind becomes the dominant self-reference of the experience, becauselife becomes an extension in space rather than in time. Life as a biographical chronologychanges a life course from one stretched out between the past, present and future to a life thatis about being in the world and being a part of it. By presenting the life course as a detailed‘landscape’ of pills and tablets, the installation creates an opportunity to experience life as acomplexity. This kind of proximity creates an experience of life when the senses rather than anabstract acknowledgment offer a path to recognition, as Granö argues. By presenting concretephenomena for direct contemplation, the exhibition can provide, as few other media can, theclose-up experience of a phenomenon in its complex three-dimensional sensory appearance.
The installation uses this potential and emphasizes it with the fabrics of pills and tablets, unrolledas a chronology of physical concrete details that constitute the course of life.
For geographer Hägerstrand, the solution was to represent the landscape as a diorama, aclose-up, frozen snapshot of the perceived landscape in its diversity and natural appearance(Nilsson 2007: 28). The installation Cradle to Grave, however, is anything but a realisticsnapshot. It is an artificial staging of a lifetime. Nothing natural corresponds to it. The artefactis a spatial extension of time; it is an articulation in space. We used to think of space assubordinate to time, because space can be formed and transformed by time. But the installationseems to reverse this relationship; time surprisingly becomes a dimension of space. It is the longseries of chemical drugs that maintain our well-being and life, and thus provide the verypossibility of extracting meaning from life (reflected in the notes on the photographs). Where theimages depict the life course as a story of events and memorable moments, the repeatedconsumption of pills points to the basic conditions of being a living being with a biological body,which needs to go on and on to keep us alive. The installation thereby juxtaposes and blurs thenormally distinct categories of biology and culture/society, and somehow a banal realization isexposed: to experience pain in life can be both a matter of losing a beloved one or suffering fromphysical malfunctions. The need for medical treatments like Viagra, anti-depressants andsleeping-pills can both derive from physical, biological and bodily conditions and from culturalexpectations, living conditions, and private feelings and experiences. The private experiences,however, are only private to the extent that it is possible to display a common pattern to our Camilla Mordhorst: Exhibition Review Article The Power of presence: the ‘Cradle to Grave’ installation at the British Museum consumption of prescribed medicine throughout our lives. It might be a biological fact that ourbodies become increasingly fragile and prone to diseases in later life, but why this includes anincreased intake of anti-depressants, sleeping-tablets and appetite suppressants probably hasmore to say about living in a modern Western culture than how the human body ages. However,when viewing the long fabric of pills and tablets, no distinction needs to be made: the installationdoes not offer explanations and causes, but simply exposes the presence of our compositemedical consumption. It is the confrontation with this ‘presence’, i.e., the overwhelmingabundance of the many drugs, the multiplicity of their forms and colours, through which someof the effectiveness of the installation seems to work.
The introduction of the concept of ‘presence’ in this context draws on the way literary theorist Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht uses the term. In his book Production of Presence - WhatMeaning Can not Convey, Gumbrecht argues for a rethinking of how to examine culturalphenomena. Gumbrecht writes that there seems to be a nearly exclusive dedication tointerpretation in the humanities, so we tend to forget another aspect of cultural phenomena thatis just as important as the dimension of meaning. It is the dimension of presence, i.e., when acultural phenomenon or event becomes tangible and has an impact on our senses and ourbodies (Gumbrecht 2004). The preference for interpretation in the humanities, among otherthings, has been expressed in the positive value our language attaches to the dimension of‘depth’.
If we call an observation ‘deep’, we intend to praise it for having given a new, morecomplex, particularly adequate meaning to a phenomenon. Whatever we deem‘superficial’, in contrast, has to lack all these qualities, because we imply that itdoes not succeed in going ‘beyond’ or ‘under’ the first impression produced bythe phenomenon in question (we normally do not imagine that anything oranybody might desire to remain without depth). (Gumbrecht 2004: 21) Within material culture studies and the museological field, this preference has been seen as anendeavour to reach ‘behind’ the objects, behind their immediate appearance and presence inorder to analyze their meaning. Things seem only to be a point of departure for analyzing ‘thereal object’ of interest, which is the broader context of the object, i.e., as a representation offormer civilizations, of other cultures etc. (Mordhorst 1997, Olsen 1993). To explain the meaningof the object results in an almost exclusive focus on the interpretation of the object, i.e., its abilityor lack thereof to represent (Mordhorst & Tøndborg 2005). In this endeavour, semiotics cameto play a significant role because it offers concepts for understanding and interpreting objectsas signs (Tilley 1990, Pearce 1994), while museologists are digging deeper into the dilemmasof representation and the relationships between things and texts (see, e.g., Olsen 1997). Thefocus on the interpretation of the object has been so exclusive that it seems to have beenoverlooked that objects, like so much else in the world, also are characterized by somethingother than their potential to create meaning, namely the simple fact that they are present andthereby affect us. Or, as Gumbrecht points out: We forgot that things have substance: That allmaterial includes an irreducible presence of the physical world that affects our senses and thusis constituting of our experience of the world (Gumbrecht 2004: 28-30).
The reason the fabric displaying the tablets and pills is so difficult to analyze is probably because it presents a physical world of extensions, weights, substances, surfaces, colours,grades of hardness and softness, quantities etc. These matters are easily perceivable by thesenses, but more difficult to describe in words. It is like the experience of ‘the first lightning ina thunderstorm’ or ‘the aggressive sunlight that almost blinds you when, coming from CentralEurope, you deplane at any California destination’, to quote Gumbrecht (2004:103). Theseexperiences are so difficult to describe and represent. The overwhelming number of pills andtablets, the beautiful, yet disturbing, variety of colours, shapes and substances of the manydrugs, which do not necessarily illustrate anything, but nevertheless are an integrated part ofthe utterance of the installation. Can it be that the play between presence and meaning, betweenjust being in the world, on the one hand, and attributing meaning to our life course, on the otherhand, creates some of the peculiar intensity of the installation? What seems to happen is thatthe installation redirects our knowledge of the medicated life from an abstract acknowledgment museum and society, 7(3)
to a concrete one, where the materials, the chemical substances with which the tablets and pillsare made, are essential and add a form of recognition different from what we had before. The28,000 tablets and pills are not exhibited primarily as representations of particular types ofmedicine. Neither do they represent an individual life course. Part of the installation’s strengthlies in the overwhelming presence of the large amount of drugs, presented as materials, namelysynthetic chemical substances in tablet form – and how intimate and physically large a part ofour lives they already are or will become. It is an intellectual experience to realize the completeconsumption of prescription drugs each of us must take to sustain our lives, but it is also a bodilyexperience to be confronted by the mountain of medicine. Artificial life is suddenly not just anabstract future scenario, but also a practical experience we all will face over time.
Whereas the concept of presence tries to theoretically articulate such moments of intensity, the concept does not seem to include any notion of change and transformation. In hisarticle Presence Achieved in Language, Gumbrecht explains the apparent non-processualityof the moments of presence in this way: human existence, in a meaning-culture, unfolds and realizes itself in constantand ongoing attempts at transforming the world (“actions”) that are based on theinterpretation of things and the projection of human desires into the future. Thisdrive toward change and transformation is absent from presence-cultures wherehumans just want to inscribe their behavior into what they consider to bestructures and rules of a given cosmology. (Gumbrecht 2006a: 319) The installation works as a phenomenon of ‘presence-culture’ rather than as a phenomenon of‘meaning-culture’ insofar as the presence of the drugs is staged as a matter of fact, a condition(a cosmology) in which modern Western people are living. The pills are not represented as astep from one historical stage toward the next. They are just there as an inevitable part of ourmodern Western life.
That the installation, on the face of it, does not articulate change and transformation comes as no surprise in relation to the exhibition as a medium. The exhibition in generalstruggles to represent change. It can only display time as a transformative force insofar as theobjects can be arranged according to their level of development and thereby represent a kindof evolution as a series of frozen pictures in time. The exact process from one point (artefact)to the next cannot be shown. One of the really interesting characteristics of the installation atthe British Museum, however, is that on closer examination it seems, nevertheless, to manageto incorporate the life course as a process. To come closer to an understanding of how it doesthis, a third theory and a related concept need to be incorporated into the current analysis,namely archaeologist Tim Ingold’s theory concerning the flow of materials.
The flow of materials
The chronology of the drugs in this case presents the life course as an extended moment in theworld, but this physical extension also works in another way. By virtue of the arrangement of thedrugs and the many photographs, i.e., in lines, the life course is represented as a transformationprocess, in which the distribution and quantity of the drugs play a crucial role. To understandmore theoretically what is going on, i.e., how materiality, time and transformation processesinteract in this exhibition experience, Tim Ingold’s theory of materials (as presented in his articleMaterials against Materiality) offers an interesting approach. Ingold begins his article with apuzzle: why is it that the ever-growing literature on material culture seems to have hardlyanything to say about materials (Ingold 2007: 1). Ingold believes that the paradox can beattributed to a continued polarization between the mental and the material. Regardless ofintentions to include the material world in material culture studies, transformations andchanging dynamics are normally attributed to the domain of the human being, while the materialsurroundings are presented ‘as a blank slate, a tabula rasa, for the inscription of ideationalforms’ (Ingold 2007: 3). Thus, Ingold argues that these studies begin only after the materialshave been made into a specific thing, e.g., have crystallized as a particular substance with aparticular form with a specific meaning. Thereby the thing and its attributed meaning becomethe prime object of analysis rather than its material foundation.
Camilla Mordhorst: Exhibition Review Article The Power of presence: the ‘Cradle to Grave’ installation at the British Museum Ingold suggests that instead of looking at the material versus the mental, we should look at the relationship between us and the outside world as a meeting between varioussurfaces; we are not only ‘placed’ in the world, but are also a part of it. ‘Like all othercreatures, human beings do not exist on the “other side” of materiality but swim in an oceanof materials’ (Ingold 2007: 7). The removal of the polarization between us, on the one hand(the active mental), and the physical world around us, on the other hand (the passivematerial), permits new ways to understand the material, ways which assign the study ofmaterials a more prominent place in the analysis. Ingold writes: And as the environment unfolds, so the materials of which it is comprised do notexist - like the objects of the material world - but occur. Thus the properties ofmaterials, regarded as constituents of an environment, cannot be identified asfixed, essential attributes of things, but are rather processual and relational. Theyare neither objectively nor subjectively imagined but practically experienced.
(Ingold 2007: 14) Thus, for Ingold, the way to get the materials back into material culture studies is to focus onthe materials, investigating their flow in the world, where new materials emerge from old,transform, or perish. Instead of examining the materials after they are fixed in a particular formas a particular thing – like a silk scarf – another kind of perspective is offered if we contemplatethe silk as a material in a process from mulberry leaf to the moth to the liquid secretions of themoth to the cocoon to fibres to textiles to commodity to consumption to use to waste to decayingmaterial. The silk scarf according to this perspective is nothing but a temporary stability fromthe previous state to the next.
Ingold argues that his analytical approach shows us how a proper, material, culture studies should be conducted, as opposed to all those studies that claim to be about materialculture but which do not include careful studies of the materials themselves. There is also atendency, noted in the article, for the study of material flow to exclude or a least overrule thestudy of materiality, i.e., the objects’ human significance. Ingold writes: ‘Materials always andinevitably win out over materiality in the long term’ (Ingold 2007: 10). Several of Ingold’sarchaeological colleagues have criticized him on these points. They claim that Ingold’s attemptsare in danger of bringing the field of archaeology back to where it started as a very traditionalempirical discipline, avoiding any kind of broader social or cultural contextualization (see, e.g.,Tilley 2007). Or, as his colleague Carl Knappett formulates his criticism: ‘Ingold invites us to takethe materials seriously and points out the danger that the study of material culture will bereduced to a study of social relationships, but the question is whether Ingold is not in danger ofmaking exactly the opposite: to throw the social relations out of the study of materials’ (Knappett2007: 23).
Although, Ingold’s methodology offers a very specific approach to material culture studies, and therefore evidently only seems relevant in some cases, his conclusions areworthwhile nonetheless. An interesting point about his way of looking at the material world asa matter of material flow is that it seems to cut across traditional dichotomies like nature andculture, passive and active, production and consumption, and not least, human beings and theirenvironment, because it focuses on the flow of materials in their dynamic processes. And it isexactly this connecting perspective which makes his methodology interesting in relationship towhat is going on at the Cradle to Grave installation.
In the glass case are two 13-metre-long textiles with rows of penicillin, antihistamines, painkillers, contraceptive pills, anti-depressants, Viagra, cholesterol-lowering drugs, sleepingtablets, regulating blood pressure medicine, medications for diabetes, and a host of other well-known drugs. On either side of the case, accompanying the length of the fabric, a tape measureindicates the number of years lived. It does not take many steps to reach the 50-year mark onthe man’s side of the case. In the last 10 years of his 75-year life, he consumed the same amountof drugs that he took for the first 66 years of his life. That the intake of medicine increases withage is hardly news, but the installation’s chronology of drugs nevertheless invites reflectionupon how closely our biological existence in the world is linked to industrial-chemical products.
It evokes a strange bodily feeling to scan the quantity of synthetic chemicals that eventually will museum and society, 7(3)
become a part of my body, a part of me. It makes no sense to draw a clear line here betweenthe mental and material, or between what we normally consider external objects (chemicallysynthesized pills) and inner personal bodily experiences. Ingold’s observation that humanbeings do not exist outside the materiality, but in the midst of it, makes concrete sense here.
Just as the cultivated mulberry leaves will, one day, become a part of a silk scarf, these syntheticextracts will become an increasingly important part of my living biological body. The installationdemonstrates that to exist as a human being in late life requires the ingestion of enormousquantities of synthetic chemicals. The visitor is reminded of how much our existence as livingbeings depends on an exchange with our surroundings. The clear distinction between thehuman being and their surroundings becomes blurred and rather more a matter of chains ofmaterial that are in perpetual motion and change. A life course is a deeply existentialexperience, but at the same time it is also just a temporary (material) substance in a materialworld in process.
Between medicine, culture and art
An installation which focuses on the appearance of objects and their substantial qualities, asopposed to presenting them as realizations of an underlying culture, is something rarely seenat cultural history museums. On the other hand, this is a very common way to present objectsin art museums. Thus, some of the specific features of the installation probably are associatedwith its indeterminate hybrid nature, suspended between the medical, the aesthetic and thecultural. The artist group themselves are aware of their work’s hybridity between art, medicineand culture. Liz Lee, herself medically qualified as a general practitioner, has described theircollective creative process. ‘Three years into the collaboration, the boundary between artist andscientist has blurred […] Each new idea is honed to see if it has a message worth developing,that the drugs required are accessible and that in the end an image can be produced which isstrong enough to carry the message’ (Lee on For analytical purposes,however, it can be interesting to separate the installation’s medical, aesthetical and culturalaspects because it illuminates different ways in which the installation works by itself and inrelation to the other exhibition elements in the gallery.
As a medical history display, the installation relates to the body-related objects that often are on display in medical museums. In these museums, medical history is presented throughits artefacts, not just because of their confrontational three-dimensional existence, but alsobecause of their ability to grasp the living-body experience, often in quite discomforting ways(Arnold 2004: 161-2). Amputation saws, blood letting cups, scalpels, diseased body parts in jars– there is an unmistakable atmosphere of ‘blood and guts’ in medical museums, which createsa basic attraction of the majority of medical artefacts. The installation at the British Museum isnot ‘dripping with blood’ as some of the old, brutal medical objects and instruments tend to be.
But what it shares with other medical displays is the ability to intervene in the body and relateto an inner physical experience of the body. The installation makes it possible to sense a basiccondition of living, by not distancing itself from the subject, not reducing the amount of pills toan abstract number. The installation thereby lets the visitor walk in the ‘landscape’ of a lifecourse in a Granöian sense.
As a contemporary work of art, the installation addresses another tradition: the use of aesthetics and materials as an integrated part of its content. It is not difficult to find works of artwhere the interconnections between the artificial, the medical and the body physicality come tolife through the materials themselves and the processing of them. In art work such as ‘ChemicalLife Support’, from 2004, English artist Marc Quinn has worked on this meeting in terms ofbiochemical bodies of patients with chronic life-threatening diseases. In a series of sculptures,he worked with casts made from polymer wax that was mixed with the drug that kept each patientalive. ‘Innoscience’ is a sculpture of Quinn’s infant son Lucas, who suffers from a milk allergy;thus the wax was mixed with the chemically produced milk-free substitute that has been usedto sustain him. For the figure of Carl Whittaker, who survived a kidney transplant, the wax mouldcontains the drug cocktail that keeps his body from rejecting its own organs (for a more detaileddescription of the art work, see Renton 2005). The installation makes us remember that a lifecourse is not just an extension in time, but an extension in space too. It makes us remember Camilla Mordhorst: Exhibition Review Article The Power of presence: the ‘Cradle to Grave’ installation at the British Museum what Gumbrecht draws to our attention and theoretical reflection, namely that the museumobject is not just characterized and recognized by its appearance, but that things have asubstance which affects our senses in ways that are constitutive of our very experience of theworld (Gumbrecht 2004: 28-30).
Whereas many works of art thus play with the material and substantial qualities of the artwork, this kind of play between content, form and substance rarely is emphasized or on stageat cultural history and ethnographic museums. In this sense, they are in line with natural sciencemuseums, which very seldom exhibit objects for their unique appearance or aesthetic qualities,but rather for their ability to represent a general rule or broader context. Or as the museologistHilde Hein writes: [The difference between] a work of art and an instrument of science is that theformer draws attention to itself as the locus of aesthetic experience, but the latter,even if it is beautiful, directs attention away from itself to a process or phenomenon.
(Hein 1990: 36) Cradle to Grave is a work of art by Susie Freeman, a textile artist, David Critchley, a video artist,and Dr. Liz Lee, a general practitioner. Together they call themselves Pharmacopoeia. Bydefinition we are, therefore, talking about a work of art. But it can also be argued that the glasscases display ethnographic/cultural objects, represented in a very aesthetic way. The fact ofbringing forth the others’ cultural properties and aesthetic qualities as a counter strategy to thetraditional ethnographic museums’ stereotyping of foreign cultures is far from new (see, e.g.,Gell 1998), but in this case, paradoxically, the situation is reversed in two respects. First, Cradleto Grave presents the life of ‘ourselves’, not the life of ‘others’ (Pearce 2002a, 2002b). Second,this is not an ethnographic object that has been displayed as art, but conversely, this is a workof art that describes an ethnographic/cultural setting. The installation shows how WesternEuropeans use drugs to ensure a good life without pain and disease. The installation isdisplayed in the middle of a large exhibition room filled with ethnographic objects that show howdifferent cultures address this very issue. Around the installation are classic glass cases filledwith ethnographic images and objects. No matter how spectacular and rare these artefacts are,like the head of a totem from North America, the huge stone sculpture from the Easter Islands,the painted panels from the Nicobar Islands, the Diablada dance mask from the Bolivian Andesor the papier-mâché skeletons from Mexico, they appear ‘reassuring’ and familiar, asrepresentations of the cultures of ‘others’. This is underlined by their arrangement in the tallglass cases along the walls and on the floors. The objects are categorized according togeographical location and explanatory text panels describe the cultural rites the objectsrepresent. Whether it is the hybrid position of Cradle to Grave, situated between works of artand contemporary historical objects, that makes it unique in its display of substantial qualities,is an interesting question. None of the other artefacts in the exhibition highlights the intimaterelationship between material and meaning, or are displayed so that the substances, gravity,extent or volumes of the objects stress their cultural meaning. Why are the painted skeletonsfrom Mexico made from light and perishable papier-mâché, so they must be remade again andagain, while the old moai sculpture is made of a material that makes it steadfast and everlastingin the landscape of Easter Island? Thus, what Ingold claimed was a peculiar paradox in manynew studies of materiality seems also to apply to this exhibition: the material expression of theworld’s cultures might be the point of departure for the exhibition’s theme and content, but thematerials themselves do not seem to play a particularly important role in the displays thatsurround the thousands of tablets and pills in the middle of the room.
If, however, you interpret the display of the other cultures, no matter how unique, rare and aesthetic beautifully they are, as an impressive frame for Pharmacopoeia’s installation,then the perspective will change. Then it makes sense to exhibit the classic ethnographic iconsas a visual referent to ‘the others’. The impressive ethnographic items in the exhibition arealmost stereotypical as icons of foreign cultures, which could give rise to such an interpretation.
Totem poles, moai sculptures, wooden panels from the Nicobar Islands and Pre-Columbiangold works are almost the epitome of the idea of ‘primitive’ cultures’ finest treasures. Such aninterpretation would lead us to think of the entire exhibition as one large contemporary art museum and society, 7(3)
installation with Pharmacopia’s art work as a prominent centrepiece. And in that senseJonathan Jones might have a point in posting his blog criticism that instead of illuminating worldart, there is a danger that Pharmacopeia’s installation blinds us. His point is, however, that theinstallation’s communicative effectiveness relies on the fact that we respond to the familiar andtherefore we do not have ‘to image our way into the remote codes of meaning that other kindsof art contains’. This article has argued that the installation’s effectiveness to reach the audienceis far more complex. It is not just that the installation stages a habit we (Britons and other culturalfellows) are very familiar with, but also and foremost the way in which the installationincorporates elements of presence in its overall expression.
The power of presence
In his latest work, In Praise of Athletic Beauty, Gumbrecht summarizes his definition of presenceas the following: ‘presence emphasises space much more than time (the Latin word prae-esseliterally means “to be in front of”). Something present is something within reach, something thatwe can touch, and of which we have immediate sensual perceptions. Presence in this sensedoes not exclude time, but it always binds time to a particular place’ (Gumbrecht 2006b: 61).
I think that one of the main reasons why the installation works so effectively can be explainedby its capability of producing presence-effects. When entering the gallery, the installation is ‘infront of’ us. The physical confrontation with the overwhelming presence of the pills and thetablets draws attention to how concrete and physically the drugs are part of our lives. Althoughthis embodied experience is, in some sense timeless insofar as it displays a present situationwithout paying any attention to what has gone before or what is to come, the installation pointsvery strongly to our individually limited time as living beings in the world and to how strongly ourlives are intertwined with our surroundings. The installation creates an awareness of ourcontemporary everyday existence, where we live, and of lives that are lived in tandem withpharmaceuticals. It creates an overwhelming effect by the inclusive contraction of a lifetime andthe complete consumption of the enormous amount of prescribed drugs.
What is distinctive about the exhibition as a medium is that it includes our own living bodies in the experience. Nothing happens before we enter the room and approach andcombine the objects and artworks on display. The installation uses this presence of the viewer’sbody to make it the dominant self-reference of the experience. Other exhibitions or – for thatmatter – other cultural phenomena like sports, for example, might entertain and engage us,because we can imagine or feel certain lives for which we do not have the talent, the time or thepossibility to live (Gumbrecht 2006b: 256). The unique thing about the Cradle to Graveinstallation is that it lets us ‘imagine’ and ‘feel’ how it is to be ‘us’, thereby realizing vital aspectsabout the lives we are living.
Received February 3rd 2009Finally accepted November 11th 2009 I am deeply thankful to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht for his thoughtful comments and suggestions,and for making it possible for me to stay 6 months, in 2008, at Stanford University, whereI was puzzling with my museological reflections. I would also like to thank my colleagueAdam Bencard for introducing me to the works of Gumbrecht and Tim Ingold.
A detailed representation of the art work can be found on-line,
Arnold, K. (2004) ‘Museums and the Making of Medical History’, in Robert Bud (ed.) ManifestingMedicine, 145-70, London: Science Museum.
Gell, A. (1998) Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Camilla Mordhorst: Exhibition Review Article The Power of presence: the ‘Cradle to Grave’ installation at the British Museum Greenblatt, S. (1991) ‘Resonance and Wonder’, in Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine (eds)Exhibiting Cultures: the Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, 42-56, Washington: SmithsonianInstitution Press.
Greenberg, R., Ferguson B. W. and Nairne S. (eds) (1996) Thinking about Exhibitions, London:Routledge.
Granö, J. G. (1929) Reine Geographie, Helsinki: Publicationes Instituti Geographici UniversitatisAboensis.
Gumbrecht, H. U. (2004) Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey, Stanford,California: Stanford University Press.
Gumbrecht, H. U. (2006a) ‘Presence achieved in Language (with Special Attention given to thePresence of the Past)’, History and Theory, 45, 317-27.
Gumbrecht, H. U. (2006b) In Praise of Athletic Beauty, London/ Cambridge, Massachusetts:The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Hein, H. (1990) The Exploratorium: The Museum Laboratory, Washington: SmithsonianInstitution.
Hein, H. (2006) Public Art: Thinking Museums Differently, Lanhan M.D.: Altamira Press.
Ingold, T. (2007) ‘Materials against Materiality’, Archaeological Dialogues, 14 (1) 1-16.
Jones, Jonathan (2009): ‘Drugs have no place in the British Museum’,, July 24.
Jordanova, L. (1993) ‘Museums: Representing the Real?’, in Georg Levine (ed) Realism andRepresentation. Essays on the Problem of Realism in Relation to Science, Literature, andCulture, 255-78, Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
Knappett, C. (2007) ‘Materials with materiality?’, Archaeological Dialogues, 14 (1) 20-3.
Lee, L. (2009) ‘Pharmacopoeia: A Collaboration between the Textile Artist Susie Freeman andthe General Practitioner Liz Lee’, (November 17, 2009).
Mordhorst, C. (1997) ’Kunsten at skabe en homunculus i den kulturhistoriske udstilling’, NordNytt, 68, 75-91.
Mordhorst, C. and B. Tøndborg (eds) (2005) (Ind)samlinger i det 21. århundrede, Copenhagen:Museologisk Skriftserie.
Nilsson, B. (2007) ’An Archaeology of Material Stories. Dioramas as Illustration and the Desireof a Thingless Archaeology’, Archaeological Dialogues, 14 (1) 27-30.
Olsen, B. (1997) Fra ting til tekst, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.
Olsen, B. (1993) ’Det arkeologiske museum, momenter til en kritikk’, Nordisk Museologi 1993(1) 45-59.
Pearce, S. M. (ed.) (1994) Interpreting Objects and Collections, London: Routledge.
museum and society, 7(3)
Pearce, S. M. (2002) [1995], On Collecting: An Investigation into Collecting in the EuropeanTradition, London/ New York: Routledge.
Pomian, K. (1994) ‘The Collection: Between the Visible and the Invisible’, in Susan M. Pearce(ed.) Interpreting Objects and Collections, 160-74, London: Routledge.
Renton, A. (2005) Marc Quinn: Chemical Life Support, London: White Cube.
Tilley, C. (ed.) (1990) Reading Material Culture, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Tilley, C. (2007) ‘Materiality against Materials’, Archaeological Dialogues, 14 (1), 16-20.
* Camilla Mordhorst is Head of Public Outreach at the Museum of Copenhagen. Her research
interests include museology, museum history and the problems of representation, with a focus
on how to combine curatorial practice with critical analysis. Among her publications are ‘The
Exhibition Narrative in Flux’ (Museological Review, 2002) and together with T. Söderqvist and
A. Bencard ‘Between Meaning Culture and Presence Effects: Contemporary Biomedical
Objects as a Challenge to Museums Exhibiting (Studies in History and Philosophy of Science,
2009); her historical analysis of the Wormian collection, Genstandsfortællinger [Object Stories],
Museum Tusculanum Press 2009.
Address:Museum of Copenhagen,Absalonsgade 3,1658 Copenhagen V,Denmark Tel: +45-33210772.
Cell: +45-40733011.
Email: [email protected]


Microsoft word - sbe-paper-2003.doc

Technology & Management for Sustainable Building Conference 26-30 May 2003 ACHIEVING SUSTAINABILITY WITH A NATURAL BUILDING APPROACH While there are numerous ways of achieving some degree of sustainability within any building project, finding holistically sustainable solutions can be more elusive. This paper will take an introspective look at some of the projects undertaken over the past

C:\documents and settings\amach

MORGAN HILL UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT SCIENCE STANDARDS FOR GRADE TWO (Board Adopted March 2001) [Bold print are the essential standards. ] STUDENTS WHO MEET THIS STANDARD WILL: *Italics indicate district standards exceed state standards Physical Sciences 1. The motion of objects can be observed and measured. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know: a.

Copyright © 2008-2018 All About Drugs