The COVID-19 pandemic instills in all of us a longing for culture. These days we sorely need an antidote to the feeling of isolation and lack of togetherness that the current circumstances dictate. I also see how culture offers hope in a time of geopolitical turbulence and increased polarization. Culture is something we all share – it serves as a common frame of reference in an age of political division.
On this rather sinister backdrop I was all the more happy that we – on December 2 – were able to uphold the tradition of arranging KI culture day. This time the event was held at Kulturhuset and with strict observation of current rules and regulations. Obviously we had no audience on site but the event was streamed and is now available on our web.
When I take part in and wholeheartedly support KI:s culture day it is in my firm conviction that research benefits from the richness of perspectives that culture provides. Through the lenses of art and music we obtain insight in the human condition and the world around us that is complementary to and synergistic to the insight provided by scientific inquiry. In my own contribution I tried to demonstrate how Edvard Munch – a forerunner of expressionism – deepened our understanding of ourselves and the diseases to which we are victims. By deliberately distorting and twisting reality he helped us better understand salient features of both health and disease. Through his exquisite sensitivity to symptoms and signs that we as lesser mortals often fail to discern he added dimensions to medicine that are relevant even today. One example is his self portrait when sick with Spanish flu. He reminds us through this piece of art that an epidemic disease takes a toll not only in terms of bodily dysfunction but also in terms of social disconnect.
Session of humor
And then we had a session on humor. What has humor to do with science? In my mind, expressionism and humor serve the same purpose: twisting and distorting the life around us and in so doing giving the perspectives we need to better understand it.
On a personal note I can say that culture has enriched and inspired me in my medical studies and in my own research.
Karolinska Institutets “Kulturdag” was organized by the Advisory Board for Culture at KI (KI:s kulturråd). The event – professionally led by Mats Lekander – included the announcement of the 2020 Karolinska Institutet Award for important contributions to Science and Culture: Jan Lindsten.
This is the jury’s motivation:
“The 2020 Karolinska Institutet Award for important contributions to Science and Culture is awarded to professor emeritus Jan Lindsten. This is the first time this award is presented for outstanding contributions to bridge Science with Culture at KI. No one can be more worthy to receive this award and recognition than Jan Lindsten. He has pioneered the introduction of culture, heritage and university history at KI, since the late eighties. This deviation from the strong focus on outstanding research and teaching at our University was made from a strong scientific position. Jan Lindsten was our first professor of medical (clinical genetics; from 1970), the secretary of the Nobel Committee for Medicine and Physiology during twelve years (1979-90), director of Karolinska Ùniversity Hospital (90-94), of Copenhagen University Hospital (Rigshospitalet, 94-96), dean of our faculty (97-99) and then praeses (chair) of the Royal Accdemy of Sciences (KVA, 2003-06).
He has since then made innumerable contributions to our cultural heritage and history over more than 30 years, including the creation of the Hagströmer library together with Ove Hagelin, launching the Cultural Council of KI, which he chaired for 10 years, arranging many art exhibitions and concerts on Campus, creating Camera Obscura with Hugo Lagercrantz, creating the faculty restaurant Svarta Räfven, re-enforcing the history and use of Gammelgården, organizing the cultural and historical programs during our 200 year Anniversary 2010, including the Hagströmer library exhibition at Waldemarsudde, stamp editions with Lennart Nilsson and stimulating a broad book production on KI history.
He has also himself written a number of seminal books related to KI history, from shorter essays on Svarta Räfven and Gammelgården to most impressive, major editions like 114 Important Scientific Contributions from Karolinska Institutet and I skuggan av ett boktorn.”
And I am already looking forward to next year´s culture day – this time around with a full audience on site. With the plethora of talents that KI can offer I am sure we are heading for another memorable event.