One of the main things I like about London is that something new always pops up. I’ve been to most of the historical tourist spots at least once, and so was at a bit of a loss as to where else I wanted to visit or re-visit and write about, when a poster with a vivisected neck popped out at me in Piccadilly Circus tube station. It was advertising the Wellcome Collection, located across the street from Euston Station, which despite having been in Euston Station many, many times coming and going to and from Lancaster, I had never noticed.
The Wellcome Trust and Collection was composed of three exhibits and a library, a specialized medical library that is. The ‘Wellcome’ of the name corresponds to Henry Wellcome, an American who came to England with a partner and the intention of setting up a research facility for studying medical issues (he and partner also ran a pharmaceutical company). One of the exhibits, titled ‘Medicine Man,’ held pieces from his collection including a case full of different prosthetic limbs, Napoleon’s toothbrush (I never really considered when brushing teeth became en vogue, or pictured Napoleon brushing, so that was odd), a mummy from Peru, and many other objects that made me wonder just exactly when those sorts of things were just available for sale from Asia, Africa, and South America.
The other specifically medical exhibit involved artists’ interpretations of modern problems like malaria, obesity, and exploring genetics. There were sculptures, paintings, and installations like a wall of pills that was very Damien Hirst-like, a giant amorphous blob with legs and no head and very lifelike skin, and a four foot tall jelly baby that was slightly more creepy than the blob.
My favorite exhibit was the one about ‘The Heart,’ it contained real dried hearts of people and animals, illustrations of previous time periods’ conceptions of what the heart was and what it did, music, videos, and art such as Andy Warhol’s heart screenprint and a box made for love letters from Spain. There was a lot of red and a lot of artists I’m very fond of represented so in many ways it was a surprise. One of the more shocking and interesting objects was a table made for medical students to learn about the circulatory system that had an actual circulatory system varnished into it, veins on one side and arteries on the other.
Once Mandy and I visited all of the exhibits we headed up to the library and thankfully, were allowed to poke around. It followed a similar format to most of the libraries we’d visited, being reference only and patronage involving becoming a reader. I was well impressed by both the space – which had lovely medically related paintings covering the walls- and the subject classification scheme as various diseases had their own sections, for instance Plague had its own shelfmark.