Closing the Gap between Life and Death

closing the gap

This portrait of a young boy with a grinning skull is not an image you would like to see on the front page of your morning paper before breakfast. The sinister image is, if you ask me, associated with anti-nuclear protests were these kind of imagery is used to portrait the Armageddon which awaits the world if we go on using these kind of power sources.

Staring a little bit longer at the picture, it brought back memories of a trip to Florence. In the natural history museum ‘La Specola’ the most fascinating, beautiful and impressive anatomical wax collection in Europe and maybe even in the world is displayed in wooden showcases. A small exhibition room is dedicated to a couple of wax scenes made by Geatano Zumbo. These object are representations of the plague, syphilis and the triumph of time. Looking at the small wax sculptures it was not hard to imagine the smell of rotten flesh and decay.

But let me return to the present. My colleague Conny from the financial department of the museum made this image after I asked her to do a photoshop job with some objects from our collections. I asked her because she showed some of the results while she was practising with the new piece of software she just had acquired. When I told her what my initial reaction to this photograph was she was surprised about my negative explanation. Instead she explained why this is a positive image. And that it has absolutely no connections with nuclear power what so ever! Since she started working in Museum Boerhaave she got impressed by the way the history of medicine is a story of closing the gap between life and death. “ It is interesting to walk around in the museum and find out that from the early days of the anatomical theatres towards modern day medical technology the basic story is that the more we know about the human body the narrower this gap” Conny told. Usually it is the curator who has a story to tell or a lesson to learn. But interestingly this was the other way around. Of course everybody may see something different in this photo, and I guess Conny wouldn’t mind if we do, but the real eye-opener here is that this photo is a brilliant piece of co-creation. Curators amongst themselves can create images like these as well. They even will agree what the universal meaning of such a photo should be.

Let’s face it, as a curator I would never have guessed my colleagues ideas! I would never have figured out that this could be a positive image as well. It made me realize that co-creation for curators and other people working in museums, is a powerful tool which can be used to get in touch with the audience, a tool even that should be used more often. When I look at this photo, there is a new mantra echoing in my brain:

I would never have guessed until I asked.

I would never have guessed until I asked.



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