Museum participation

Back in April, we hosted Drawabout: a relaxed roving drawing experience within the Medicine Now gallery space. Jack Millner tells us about how it enabled him to engage with our gallery and about participation in museums; a significant element of our current exhibition, An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition.

design by Jennifer Rae Atkins

Featuring guidance from a curiously adorned and mustachioed Adam Taffler from performance company Adamotions, our Drawabout event was a combination of storytelling and drawing. People were drawn alongside objects in the gallery as Adam and the group discussed the themes and stories around them, which were in turn incorporated into the drawings.

Medicine Now explores aspects of medical history through art and science, making drawing a natural way to engage with the exhibit for both children and adults. Taffler invited the participants to discover meaning in the objects through discussion and art, playfully exploring the connection between mind and body, disease and mental health.

The Drawabout was a fun way of engaging with Medicine Now, but it made me start to imagine activities that could harness the potential of participatory theatre in gallery and exhibition spaces more generally.

The history of medicine offers up a rich landscape for dramatisation and participation – imagine stepping into an 18th Century human dissection in an anatomy theatre and making sketches of the body parts in a morbid twist on life drawing.

A lecture at the Hunteriana Anatomy School.

A lecture at the Hunteriana Anatomy School.

The success of Secret Cinema, the company that transports its audience into the world of a film using dressing up, actors and audience participation, has shown that immersive theatre can breathe new life into familiar content, as well as provide a memorable and fun night out.

So why should galleries and museums be any different?

In fact, participation is often a central part of science exhibitions and children’s museums – the Exploratorium in San Francisco is an exhibition space built entirely around interactivity. And do you remember how much fun you had as a child in the Science Museum’s launchpad?

In her book, The Participatory Museum, Nina Simon makes the case for participation in museums for adults too. She imagines an institution that “uses participatory engagement as the vehicle for visitor experiences.”

People learn more effectively when they take part rather than just observe; breaking the one-way flow of information in a traditional gallery space could enrich the experience for everyone.

The Participatory Museum is available to read online, and you can check out Nina Simon’s blog, Museum 2.0 here too.

Russell Dornan talks about our latest participatory exhibition

Our current exhibition, An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition, takes participation a little further: half of what’s on show has been contributed to or generated by our visitors. For every letter of the alphabet there’s a theme presented in the gallery and explored through Henry Wellcome’s weird and wonderful collection of objects. Opposite each one is your chance to explore the theme in a different way.

A visitor listening to some music on the "For your contribution" side of the exhibition, featuring listening stations and digital games.

A visitor listening to some music on the “For your contribution” side of the exhibition.

From weighing in on debates (such as “is war inevitable?” or “are you ever too old to have a baby?”) to adding your height mark to the wall; from adding parts to an ongoing story to writing your fears down and leaving them with us, we are asking our visitors, all fellow experts in the human condition, to simultaneously explore and add to the exhibition.

R is for Resourcefulness.

R is for Resourcefulness.

K is for Keeping up appearances. We've asked visitors to draw how they present themselves to the world.

K is for Keeping up appearances. We’ve asked visitors to draw how they present themselves to the world.

T is for Tale-telling.

T is for Tale-telling.

You don’t need to visit to be a part of it. Several themes ask for submissions on Instagram: share your images that evoke urban living or reveal something curious you’ve spotted in nature. We’re printing your photos out and putting them in the gallery itself as well as adding them to our Tumblr.

U is for Urban living. Share your photos using #HumanSardines and we'll display them in the gallery.

U is for Urban living. Share your photos using #HumanSardines and we’ll display them in the gallery.

S is for Skin. Share a photo of your tattoo on Instagram using #HumanSkin and we'll add it to the album in our gallery.

S is for Skin art.

Wether you’re able to visit Wellcome Collection or not, we would love you to participate in our exhibition and add your stories to the #HumanCondition.

Jack Millner is one of our Wellcome Trust funded Science Journalism students.

Russell Dornan is the Web Editor at Wellcome Collection.

Object of the month: Shrunken Heads (real and fake)

As part of our development project, the tsantsa (or, shrunken head) normally on display in Medicine Man is in storage. Our replica tsantsa, however, which forms part of our cross-gallery handling collection, can still be seen. This month Charlie Morgan delves into the history and controversy of this erstwhile cultural practice. N.b. although this series is called Object of the Month, real tsantsas are comprised of human remains and we in no way mean to dehumanise them.

Shrunken head, Shuar

Shrunken head, Shuar

At some point in the mid-16th century, Spanish Conquistadors entered the Amazon rainforest and came into contact with the Shuar people. In the epic colonisation of Latin America, one more indigenous group would not have made much of an impact if it had it not been for two factors: gold and tsantsas. To gain the former, the Spanish Empire tore up its initial peace agreements and subjugated the Shuar in a brutal mining system. In 1599, The Shuar – amongst other Jivaroan tribes – revolted against the Spanish, sacked their towns and – as the story goes – to satisfy the insatiable lust of the Spanish governor, poured molten gold down his throat. The area never again came under complete colonial control.

To obtain tsantsas, subsequent expansionists took a different approach. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, collectors would routinely arrive in the borderlands of Ecuador and Peru, laden with money, weapons or both, dead-set on exchange. Europeans and Americans might by that time have grown to fear the Shuar, but they were still utterly obsessed with shrunken heads.

A Shuar shrunken head (tsantsa) from Ecuador.

A Shuar shrunken head (tsantsa) from Ecuador.

Despite that fact that tsantsas have only ever been produced by Jivaroan tribes, such as the Shuar people, it is often assumed that head shrinking was, and is, a globally ubiquitous phenomenon of indigenous groups: Papua New Guinea and parts of Africa being oft-ventured guesses. Yet aside from re-thinking our assumptions of where they might be made, it’s also important to consider the why.

The Spanish colonialists assumed the Shuar were a very warlike people’ because of the 1599 revolt and because they shrunk human heads – both, apparently, for no particular reason. However, while we now know the first was a legitimate act of anti-colonial resistance, we also know that the second was done for a very specific purpose.

Central to historic Shuar belief systems is an adherence to the idea of multiple, yet interlinking, souls, and one of the most powerful is the vengeful soul. Traditionally, if someone were to be killed in battle, the greatest fear of the murderer would be that the dead person’s soul could wreak havoc upon them from the afterlife; in order to prevent this happening the soul would have to be trapped. As the Shuar believed that the soul resides within the head, the best way to do this was to shrink it. Click here to read about the head shrinking process.

While head shrinking may be a unique trait of Jivaroan history, heads have been removed from foes in numerous places and in most cases they have been prominently displayed. At the Tower of London, heads of executed traitors were rammed onto spikes and in medieval Japan those removed by Samurai would be treated similarly. Not so with tsantsas.

Shrunken heads were produced to trap souls; once done, the soul had no way of escaping. The crucial part was not the end product but rather the process. As such, despite the fact that some heads would be paraded at feasts and hung up on display, others would be thrown away or even given to children to play with. In reality, a tsasnta only attained value as an object in itself when, akin to gold, it was integrated into the global networks of modern capitalism.

Shrunken head compared with normal human skull

Shrunken head compared with normal human skull

Henry Wellcome obtained the shrunken head normally displayed in Medicine Man from the Stevens Auction Room in 1925. It cost £25 but it’s entirely possible that wasn’t just for the head: Stevens was well known to bundle objects together if he knew Wellcome was interested. He would then hike up the price as far as he could. How the head got to the auction in the first place we don’t know, but by the end of the 19th century the Euro-American lust for tsantsas was so extreme that more were being produced for trade than for the trapping of souls. Collectors would trade guns for heads and the guns would create heads to be traded for guns. For those that try to explain indigenous practice through colonial ideas of ‘modernity’ vs. ‘backwardness’, this is problematic because if head shrinking was a ‘backward’ practice it was far more escalated by ‘modernity’ than limited by it.

There is one final caveat. While the collecting of tsantsas was often very destructive it would be a mistake to see the Shuar as just passive victims. One aspect of the trade can be better explained by our replica tsantsa than by the real one. The shrunken head in our handling collection is made out of animal skin but is otherwise produced in exactly the same way that a human one would be (and looks remarkably similar). At the height of 19th century trade, wealthy collectors would often purchase tsantsas and put them on display, unaware that what they had been sold was made of animal skin. It’s estimated that this applies to 80% of all shrunken heads ever displayed. Like most objects in Wellcome Collection, the tsantsa tells more than one story.

Charlie is a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection.

The story of Morbid Anatomy

During Twitter’s #MuseumWeek we were unofficially twinned with the evocative Morbid Anatomy. A sort of spiritual half-sister of ours, it specialises in certain themes abundantly explored at Wellcome Collection and Library. Joanna Ebenstein, its founder, tells us about how and why Morbid Anatomy was formed and its journey from blog to library to event series to museum.

The "Venerina" or "Little Venus" anatomical model by Clemente Susini, 1782, as seen at the Palazzo Poggi in Bologna, Italy. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy.

The “Little Venus” anatomical model by Clemente Susini, 1782, as seen at the Palazzo Poggi in Bologna, Italy. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy.

Morbid Anatomy is a project which explores – via words and images, art and scholarship, in both the virtual and physical world – the overlaps between art and medicine, death and culture. It began as a blog in 2007, a satellite to an exhibition I was working on about the art and culture of medical museums. In order to collect material for this exhibition, I had gone on a one-month “pilgrimage” to great medical museums of Europe and the United States. When I returned from this trip, I found myself overwhelmed by the volume of material I had collected. Thousands of photographs, scores of links to online exhibitions and museum websites, piles of books and scholarly articles… The Morbid Anatomy blog was born from an impetus to organise this material for use in my own work.

"Anatomical Venuses," Wax Models with human hair in rosewood and Venetian glass cases,The Josephinum, Workshop of Clemente Susini of Florence circa 1780s, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

“Anatomical Venuses” Wax Models with human hair , The Josephinum, Workshop of Clemente Susini of Florence circa 1780s, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

I drew the name “Morbid Anatomy” from the medical term for the study of diseased organs and tissues, but to me, the phrase also operated as a kind of medical double entendre with which I wished to problematise ideas of what constituted the morbid. Why, I wanted to ask, was it deemed morbid to be interested in death? If death is the greatest mystery of human life; if everyone who ever has lived has died or will die, and so will I; how, then, could being interested in death be seen as pathological?

Head of Saint Vittoria, crafted of wax, hair and what looks like human teeth, church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, Italy. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

Head of Saint Vittoria, crafted of wax, hair and what looks like human teeth, church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, Italy. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

With a background in intellectual and art history, I had long been intrigued by the ways in which other cultures and eras approached and envisioned death: Incorruptible saints in Catholic churches, post-mortem photography, the cult figure of Santa Muerte, phantasmagoria, ossuaries, memento mori-themed fetal skeleton tableaux such as those of Frederik Ruysch, the Anatomical Venuses of Clemente Susini

Tableau with Three Foetal Skeletons, from Frederik Ruysch, Opera omnia..., Amsterdam: Janssonius Waesbergen, 1721-1727. Courtesy of the New York Academy of Medicine Library.

Tableau with Three Foetal Skeletons, from Frederik Ruysch, Opera omnia, Amsterdam: Janssonius Waesbergen, 1721-1727. Courtesy of the New York Academy of Medicine Library.

Clearly death was not always considered an inappropriate subject for art and contemplation, and clearly ideas of death and beauty had not always been in conflict. How, I wanted to understand, had death become strange to us? How could looking at the past teach us something about the cultural relativity of our own views? These are the questions I have been investigating via Morbid Anatomy since its inception.

Fetal Skeleton Tableau, 17th Century, University Backroom, Paris. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

Foetal Skeleton Tableau, 17th Century, University Backroom, Paris. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

Since starting this project seven years ago, Morbid Anatomy’s audience and scope has grown in ways I could never have predicted. The project has now expanded to include the open-to-the-public Morbid Anatomy Library; The “Morbid Anatomy Presents” series of lectures and workshops in London and Brooklyn; the self-published Morbid Anatomy Anthology with essays by The Wellcome’s own Dr. Simon ChaplinKate Forde and Ross MacFarlane; and, our newest addition, The Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York.

A brand new three-story exhibition, library, education and event space committed to showcasing and championing artefacts, art, and ideas which fall between the cracks of our disciplinary divides, high and low culture, art and medicine, death and beauty. The Morbid Anatomy Museum takes as its inspiration quirky collections like The Wellcome and The Pitt Rivers, as well as pre-modern museums and cabinets of curiosity with their promiscuous intermingling of art and science, affect and didacticism, spectacle and edification.

The Morbid Anatomy Museum will officially open on Saturday, June 28th with our inaugural exhibition “The Art of Mourning,” on view through December 2014.

Santa Muerte Shrine, Mexico City. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

Santa Muerte Shrine, Mexico City. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

The Morbid Anatomy Library. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

The Morbid Anatomy Library. Photo by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy

Rendering of the Morbid Anatomy Museum by Architects Robert Kirkbride and Anthony Cohn

Rendering of the Morbid Anatomy Museum by Architects Robert Kirkbride and Anthony Cohn

You can visit the Morbid Anatomy blog here; find a full list of Morbid Anatomy events and workshops here, get on our mailing list here; and find out more about the museum here.

Joanna Ebenstein is a New York based multidisciplinary artist and independent scholar. She is the creative director of The MorbidAnatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York and founder of the Morbid Anatomy blog, Library and event series. She also acted as curatorial consultant for the Wellcome Collection’s 2009 exhibition Exquisite Bodies.

Generosity Plates

Wellcome Collection’s foyer and café have become home to small miracles of nature with a newly commissioned intervention of artworks, sculptures and plant propagation by the artist John Newling. The Moringa tree (Moringa oleifera) is often called the miracle tree, such is its nutritional richness. Native to the Himalayas it is a unique and exciting opportunity to see them growing alongside the artworks. Kate Gosling asks John Newling some questions about his work.

It seems the Moringa tree is a fantastic food source high in necessary nutrients. Are there any other foodstuffs that compare?

There are many remarkably nutritious plants but Moringa oleifera has amongst the most known nutriments within its leaves. It is a natural food supplement and is used in areas of famine or very low nutrient diets. With the rise of a renewed interest in plants and trees through plant biology research I suspect and hope species as generous as the moringa tree will be discovered.

Photo © John Newling.

Photo © John Newling.

Do you grow Moringa oliefera at home? Have you eaten it?

Yes, I have grown many Moringa trees at home in a grow tent I have in my studio. These are grown in very sandy soils with the tent set to replicate sub-tropical climate conditions. What is brilliant is the close observation I can have with these remarkable trees.

I have eaten the leaves of the tree in salads and separately. They have a very strong flavour, somewhere between cabbage and peppers. I have also made Moringa tea which did not taste very good. I suspect this is why Moringa tea recipes on the internet all suggest vast dollops of honey in them. In the main, the leaves are harvested, dried and made into a nutrient supplement powder that is very effective in aiding better nutrition.

What’s your favourite recipe for these?

I did enjoy the leaves in salads; mainly because they were so difficult to grow and I was so pleased to have geminated and grown a tree to be able to eat a few leaves.

Photo © John Newling.

Photo © John Newling.

What’s the best way we can look after the plants whilst they growing in the café, next to the Euston Road?

In many ways the attempt to grow these trees at  Wellcome Collection is an experiment with all the risks that are inherent in such work. They are being grown in a hydroponic environment that gives them the soil pH of 6.2 – 6.5 and enough sunlight equivalent to give them excellent growing conditions. Someone from Wellcome will keep an eye on them particularly in the first couple of weeks when there are adjusting to the new environment and are very fragile.

Because these trees are not growing in soil, they are getting their nutrients from the waters that flood and drain the roots every three hours. It does mean that the water’s nutrient and ph level is checked regularly. From previous attempts to grow these I think a few trees will be weak whilst a few will dominate the ecology so to speak. If we manage to keep the trees alive it will be an achievement in close observation and learning for all of us.

Photo © John Newling.

Photo © John Newling.

Does the Moringa plant feel more spiritual to tend to than any other plant?

I think it’s not necessarily the plant itself but the process of working with a plant that creates an intimacy of wonder that is, I guess, close to a spirituality. I am not a great grower of stuff but I learn so much about us and the world through trying to grow plants like the Moringa. This approach of close observation and learning, for me, came from a project called The Lemon Tree and Me”: I attempted to grow a lemon tree in compost which I had made of 85% printed paper.

I wrote an account of the learning, reflections and thoughts through the 688 days of the work. I think that it is in careful, thoughtful observation that we can both find spirituality of a kind and new understanding.

John talks more about the spiritual here.

Photo © John Newling.

Photo © John Newling.

What is your next project?

In July I have work at the Ikon Gallery Birmingham and will also be beginning a new project: “21st Century Eden” in York. Later in the year I hope to work (funding dependant) with the John Innes laboratory developing ideas, learning and making through collaborations with the brilliant plant Biological Chemistry team.

Kate is a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection.

Uncanny Mutations and Astonishing Mutants

X-Men: Days of Future Past is now in cinemas, billed as the most action packed and ambitious film in the X-Men saga. What better time to use the classic, long-running comic series as inspiration for a post about mutations whilst taking a look at some of the other aspects that make these superheroes more than just men in tights.

Before we go any further: what exactly is mutation and how does it happen? Joel Carlin explains:

“Mutation is a change in the sequence of an organism’s DNA. Mutations can be caused by high-energy sources such as radiation or by chemicals in the environment. They can also appear spontaneously during the replication of DNA.” (Carlin, 2011)

It is this latter method that the writers of the X-Men comics employ as an explanation for their superhuman characters’ astonishing abilities. In real life, as in the comics, mutations can be expressed in a range of ways: sometimes they are harmful and sometimes they have little (or even no) effect. Very rarely, though, the altered DNA may turn out to benefit the organism in some way.

Heralded as the next step in human evolution by some and an abomination by the rest , X-Men presents the arrival of these mutations among a small percentage of the population (mutants) as a polarising event in society. Taking inspiration from real-world social issues (such as anti-Semitism, diversity, LGBT issues, religion and subculture) and exploring heavy themes (from discrimination and persecution to revolution and equality), X-Men is more than just superhuman characters in impossible outfits showcasing their extraordinary abilities. Although this mix of the political, social and incredible is undoubtedly part of the series’ enduring popularity, it is arguably the characters and their unique skills which have truly captured people’s imaginations.

These abilities vary hugely across the series in terms of their nature, as well as their believability. From weather manipulation or teleportation to becoming intangible or running at the speed of sound; from accelerated healing or shapeshifting to freezing solid or astounding strength. Some of these exist in nature already (click the preceding links to find out more).

Biotechnology, another theme explored in X-Men, already allows scientists to imbue one organism with the “powers” of another, from transgenic goats that excrete spider silk protein in their milk to glow in the dark kittens. It doesn’t seem that far fetched to consider future applications of biotechnology including enhancing human beings with abilities of other organisms.

Of course, rapid changes to our genome may not be driven by science alone. Although many species have been affected gradually by smaller mutations, sometimes evolution works more rapidly:

“Several types of organisms have an ancestor that failed to undergo meiosis correctly prior to sexual reproduction, resulting in a total duplication of every chromosome pair. Such a process created an “instant speciation” event in the gray treefrog of North America.” (Carlin, 2011)

Could an “instant speciation” event occur among humans and, if it did, what form might it take? It’s tempting to imagine people of the future being able to emit concussive blasts from their eyes or manipulate metal with their mind, although not very realistic. X-Men first appeared in 1963 (partially inspired by the African-American civil rights movement) and the powers imagined for X-Men’s mutants are very much a product of 20th century minds. What, then, would the mutants have been like had they been dreamt up a little bit earlier?

Delving into the Wellcome Library and Images yields many examples of mutants and mutations throughout history, offering a glimpse into what was capturing people’s imaginations hundreds of years ago. During the 1500s and 1600s, “monsters” seemed to be everywhere: collected by royalty, catalogued by naturalists and even used as a means of religious indoctrination.

In Armand Marie Leroi’s book, Mutants, he writes about the Monster of Ravenna:

“…a monster had been born at Ravenna; it had a horn on its head, straight up like a sword, and instead of arms it had two wings like a bat’s, and the height of its breasts it had a fio [Y-shaped mark] on one side and a cross on the other, and lower down at the waist, two serpents, and it was a hermaphrodite, and on the right knee it had an eye, and its left foot was like an eagle.”

The monster of Ravenna, 1554.

The monster of Ravenna, 1554.

Ravenna fell to French troops shortly after its monster’s birth; a causal link was identified by some at the time with Italians taking it to symbolise the horrors of war. The French, on the other hand, interpreted it as a symbol of Italian vices.

Several ornate and beautiful works were produced to document the occurrence of these monsters. From the Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon (1557) in Germany, to the Histoires prodigieuses (1560-82) in France and De monstrorum natura caussis et differentiis (1616) in Italy. Originally considered a sign of divine disapproval or a portent of doom, religious factions used these deformities in propaganda and vitriol directed at others, citing them as symbols of corruption.

In the case of conjoined twins, such as those featured in Histoires prodigieuses, many saw their arrival as a sign of political union, but others saw them as signs of God’s omnipotence (as opposed to any opinion He may have on our affairs). Or was it just a chance happening? La querelle des monsters (the quarrel of the monsters) described this conflict between the different positions: deformity as devine design and deformity as accident.

Monster (conjoined twins) born on the borders of England and Normandy,  1560. From Histoires prodigieuses.

Monster (conjoined twins) born on the borders of England and Normandy, 1560. From Histoires prodigieuses.

Below are a few more examples of these “monsters”. Or, rather, individuals who have been affected by mutations which in one way or another set them apart. Instead of portents of doom, religious signs or sideshow freaks, can you better imagine them as part of a team of crime fighting superheroes? Or, even better, as people?

Two Christian princesses who could not be harmed by fire, 1560. From Histoires prodigieuses.

Two Christian princesses who could not be harmed by fire, 1560. From Histoires prodigieuses.

A virgin entirely furry like a bear presented to the Empereur and King of Boheme, 1560. From Histoires Prodigieuses.

A virgin entirely furry like a bear presented to the Empereur and King of Boheme, 1560. From Histoires Prodigieuses.

Born in Poland in 1890 as Stephan Bibrowsky, “Lionel the Lion Faced Boy” suffered from hypertrichosis. This postcard would probably have been sold as a souvenir at places where Lionel was exhibited as part of a freak or variety show.

Postcard showing Lionel the Lion Faced Boy, born in 1890 .

Postcard showing Lionel the Lion Faced Boy, born in 1890 .

The Selenetidae women, contrary to the nature of other women, give birth to eggs, from which emerge five year old men, ten times bigger than us.

Selenetidae women giving birth to eggs, 1557. From Prodigiorum ac ostentorum Chronicon.

Selenetidae women giving birth to eggs, 1557. From Prodigiorum ac ostentorum Chronicon.

A young child whose intestines were exposed to view, through a strange infirmity of nature, 1560. From Histoires Prodigieuses.

A young child whose intestines were exposed to view, through a strange infirmity of nature, 1560. From Histoires Prodigieuses.

"Monstrous bodies", 1634. From De monstrorum natura caussis et differentiis.

“Monstrous bodies”, 1634. From De monstrorum natura caussis et differentiis.

In 77CE Pliny the Elder documented the incredible races of people to be found in India and Ethiopia: monopods; dog-headed Cynocephali, people without heads but with eyes between their shoulder blades; people with many more digits on fingers hands and feet; people who lived for over a thousand years; and the Cyclops.

A "cyclops". Or: an infant with one central eye.

A “cyclops”. Or: an infant with one central eye.

"Abnormalities", 1557. From Prodigiorum ac ostentorum Chronicon.

“Abnormalities”, 1557. From Prodigiorum ac ostentorum Chronicon.

The public have been and always will be curious about difference. The enduring popularity of places like Wellcome Collection or Morbid Anatomy and the obsession with extreme human body documentaries would seem to confirm this. Whether “mutants” are celebrated or targeted, it gives us a way to reflect upon our own nature.

Russell Dornan is the Web Editor at Wellcome Collection.

Module Units: Alexia Roumpou

Module Units is an installation of young artists’  work from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Central Foundation Boys’  School. This collaborative display of artwork was initially inspired by our recent Foreign Bodies, Common Ground exhibition and our permanent collections, and has been coordinated and curated by artist Verity-Jane Keefe. Hear from the artists who took part in the project as they discuss the project as a whole as well as the final installation of their work.

Alexia Roumpou, Central Saint Martins Progression group

Observing my piece in a professional space  surrounded in a variety of different fragments made me understand how important this project was.

The experience I gained from this exhibition made me think deeper about the process of making and also made me think in a more mature and skilful way. It was interesting to see the viewers look at my piece and try to understand what I’m trying to express.

Alexia 1

The curation of the pieces was interesting too; I’ve never seen something like this before.

Doing this exhibition helped me focus and manage my time. I’m glad I participated: now I understand how challenging it is to put your work together and exhibit it, but it’s worth the time you spend and I would definitely do it again.

Read Alexia’s personal statement about her work and see an image that relates to the process of creating it here.

Module Units: Elenor Hellis

Module Units is an installation of young artists’ work from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Central Foundation Boys’ School. This collaborative display of artwork was initially inspired by our recent Foreign Bodies, Common Ground exhibition and our permanent collections, and has been coordinated and curated by artist Verity-Jane Keefe. Hear from the artists who took part in the project as they discuss the project as a whole as well as the final installation of their work.

Elenor Hellis, Central Saint Martins BA Fine Art

As part of our Unit 6 at Central Saint Martins, we had the unique and fantastic opportunity of choosing what institutions we wanted to do a project with. We had the option of working with several galleries, museums, publishers and performers. I chose Wellcome Collection as it has been my dream from the age of about seventeen to have some kind of involvement with it. I was always fascinated by the crossover between medicine and art. It made perfect sense as we were asked to respond to the themes of Wellcome Collection’s recent exhibition titled Foreign Bodies, Common Ground and I had recently been making a series of work which was closely related to this.

Last summer I did a performance at Lewisham Art House, which involved a specimen slide microscope and a USB endoscope, which involved extracting parts of my body (such as eyelashes, hair, tears, eye mucus and eyebrows) and making these into specimen slides, viewable under a microscope.

Elenor 1

I wanted to return to the themes of this performance; however, this time I wanted to give these ‘foreign bodies’ more of a narrative. I began to construct a text which talked about all twenty foreign bodies used in my piece. The text would be a blending of scientific and personal narratives, in which I would talk about the purpose, loss and stigma attached to a foreign body (such as hair in food, bogeys on the wall or the replacement of blue liquid in Sanitary Towel adverts).

I began making slides.

Elenor 2

Overall I found the experience of the project really engaging. It was interesting to see how young artists at different stages of their artistic education interacted and responded to each other’s work. I liked the surprise element of the project where no one was 100% sure of what we were all going to make and the mystery of whether our pieces were going to work alongside each other. I think the final result was quite interesting. I had slight concerns as to how my younger peers (and their parents) were going to respond to my work, as I was dealing with quite mature and personal themes. Overall, I had quite a positive and mature response to my work and I think the output of work from others was very impressive.

Elenor 3

It was interesting seeing the work altogether in the room. I used to work in a gallery and it was always really fascinating to see the work either being packed or unpacked in the boxes and you would see glimpses of the work wrapped up in bubble wrap. This exhibition reminded me of that: it was an unpacking, in an in-between state, of work viewable but still in their crates.

Read Elenor’s personal statement about her work and see an image that relates to the process of creating it here.