Wellcome Collection, London
24 June – 12 October 2014
The Wellcome Collection’s An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition is a fascinating look at some of Henry Wellcome’s more unusual objects. Medical artefacts, paintings, photographs, sculptures and some contemporary artworks take you on a humorous and interactive journey through medical history, where you can be both contributor and contemplator. Curator Danielle Olsen has put together a playful exhibition of curiosities, a real joy in a small space.
As you arrive, you are encouraged to place a green dot on a map to show where you are visiting from. Each letter of the alphabet is themed: B is for Birthdays, S is for Skin art, Y is for Yawning, and so on. H is for Heredity, where visitors have recorded their heights with an array of coloured pencil marks on the wall, and a large bookshelf contains more than 100 volumes into which have been transcribed 3.4 billion units of DNA code.
When you get to M, there is a vitrine entitled Mental Faculties containing a large book from 1621 by Robert Fludd, an English physician, author and mystical philosopher. He drew his ideas from many sources including the Old Testament, the Jewish Kabbalah, alchemy and astrology, and describes four realms of perception – sensual, intellectual, imaginable and sensible.
O is for Obsolete knowledge, with an array of 18th-century objects including Inuit snow goggles, a peg leg, an artificial nose and a false eye. Here I was fortunate enough to catch the trolley of curiosities: an expert explaining phantom-limb syndrome.
On the opposite wall Philosophy is demonstrated with food for thought, an invitation to take a fortune cookie to open on leaving the exhibition. R is for Resourcefulness, where visitors scribble down what they think it means, pinning their definitions to a board for all to read. Soundbites of wisdom include: “insight, research, intelligent”, “knowing who to call”, “doing what you can with what you’ve got” and “sharing”.
As you near the end of the alphabet, U for UrbanLiving includes rows and rows of photographs of packed trains and pavements. Visitors can post their own examples on Twitter at #HumanSardines.
This exhibition engages with our head, heart, and hands. Contribute and track this allegorical alphabet at #HumanCondition.
Grace Ndiritu – interview: ‘Museums hold our collective past and they can hold our future’
Ndiritu talks about her show at the Wellcome Collection, where a Zen Buddhism-inspired temple allows visitors to contemplate her tapestries Repair and Restitution, and explains why reshaping the role of museums is so important to her
Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies
This bold exhibition brings together two challenging female artists insistent on exploring identity and the medicalised body
James Wilkes: ‘Mind-wandering has became a productive way for us to disrupt that idea of there being rest and the opposite of rest’
The exhibition Rest & its discontents at the Mile End Art Pavilion, London, is one of a number of events born from the works of Hubbub, a collective of multidisciplinary practitioners investigating busy-ness and rest. Wilkes, a poet, writer and Associate Director of Hubbub, spoke to us about the group’s work
This is a Voice
This intriguing exhibition attempts to capture the elusive nature of the human voice, with live performances by sound artists, demonstrations, paintings and medical illustrations. Curator Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz tells Studio International about the show
Mark Fairnington: ‘The work I do with scientists echoes their speculation and observation rather than any ensuing claim to truth’
The artist talks about his work researching natural history collections, how he crosses the divide between art and science, and his deadpan English brand of surrealism