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.

Module Units: Hannah Buller

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.

Hannah Buller, Central Saint Martins Progression group

My piece is about me locking myself away in my bedroom whilst dealing with depression. I would surround myself with comforting things like pillows and duvets, toys from my childhood and writing in my diary. I wanted to do a performance to help bring my piece to life. I wanted to do the performance myself and not someone else because it is a personal piece another person would not be able to replicate it in the same way.

Hannah during her performance piece.

Hannah during her performance piece.

Before doing my performance piece I was really nervous. I hadn’t done a performance piece before and had some concerns. Will people take notice of my performance? Will I step out of character? Amongst other thoughts. However, whilst doing the performance I just blocked everyone out. The more I got into the performance the more natural it felt.

Hannah writes in her diary during her performance piece.

Hannah writes in her diary during her performance piece.

I felt that 15 minutes should be enough for my performance, but I probably could have done the whole night. Doing the performance has really boosted my confidence and pushed me to put myself out there and take ownership of my art. I got great feedback from the other artists and viewers.

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

Fancy being a curator?

With Wellcome Collection’s development project underway, the Youth Programme team wanted to recruit young people to develop their handling collection, to be used during study days and future projects. From January to April 2014, Visitor Experience Assistant Muriel Bailly had the chance to work alongside the team on a fantastic project called Fancy Being a Curator? and tells us about her experience. 

Developing a new collection is always challenging, even for experienced curators. Luckily we had just the right people for the job: a group of nine young people aged 14 to 19 who volunteered to take part in the project. Over only five sessions they managed to acquire the most wonderful objects for our handling collection.

To help the group to become familiar with the museum’s collection, they visited our galleries on the first day of the project, as well as our stored collection at Blythe House. Needless to say, it was a heavy day for the participants. They had to absorb an incredible amount of information! Lesser individuals may have run away but the group bravely stuck to it, their curiosity triggered by our collection.

The youth group get to grips with Henry Wellcome’s collection by visiting Blythe House. (©Wellcome Images)

The youth group get to grips with Henry Wellcome’s collection by visiting Blythe House. (©Wellcome Images)

Over the following sessions the group met with various key staff members at Wellcome Collection to get an understanding of all aspects of collection management. With Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes, they discussed curatorial decision making: how do you decide what is worth acquiring and what isn’t? How do you create a narrative through your collection and how do you communicate this narrative effectively through label and panel writing?

Members of our Visitor Experience team, Jeremy Bryans and Rob Bidder (yes, the famous one from our Curious Conversations), explored the galleries’ handling collection with the group and discussed how we use it in context with visitors.

After these sessions, newly armed with information and insight, the group were ready to buy new objects for our collection. After seeing so much of our collections the group brainstormed and identified the main themes for the new objects: the history of medicine; body image; and the history of sexuality. By the end of a very long day of intense research on the internet, the group had acquired 14 objects linked to the themes identified. They got it spot on.

For instance, for the history of sexuality (to complement the Chinese sexual aids and Victorian anti masturbation device displayed in Medicine Man), we now have a collection of 1920s sexual education booklets which make for delightful reading:

“Never wear social dress to business. A low neck behind a counter or at a desk is as much out of place as high heels shoes and thin hose. Dress with becoming modesty.” Extract from Sex Facts for the Adolescent and Matured Woman by S. Dana Hubbard, M.D, New York.

Young people and members of the public get closer to the newly acquired collection. (©Wellcome Images)

Young people and members of the public get closer to the newly acquired collection. (©Wellcome Images)

After ordering the objects, our young people met with conservators Stefania Signorello and Amy Junker Heslip to discuss the conservation and monitoring needs of the newly acquired collection.

Finally, for the last day of the project, the youth group curated their own exhibition. They put on a display of their objects in our brand new studio and delivered handling sessions, talks and had fun with visitors popping in.

Young people and members of the public get closer to the newly acquired collection. (©Wellcome Images)

Young people and members of the public get closer to the newly acquired collection. (©Wellcome Images)

Young people and members of the public get closer to the newly acquired collection. (©Wellcome Images)

Young people and members of the public get closer to the newly acquired collection. (©Wellcome Images)

I was aware we were asking much from these young people. Over only a few weeks they had to build familiarity not only with our large collection but also with the principles of collections management and develop the confidence to expose their work to other museum professionals, but they did it brilliantly. The success of this project is, to me, a perfect example of the wonderful things that can happen when you give voice to your audience and visitors. I hope to see more of this, both here at Wellcome Collection and elsewhere.

Muriel Bailly is a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection.

Contemplating the Contemporary: Sculpture

Contemporary art is all around us, but we often still ask: “Is it art?” In the first of a new blog series exploring how and why we make art, Guillaume Vandame looks at sculpture in our Medicine Now gallery and beyond for Contemplating the Contemporary.

Contemporary art of the twenty-first century is driven in part by advancements and innovations in the practice of sculpture. In particular, artists are interested in using mixed media, found objects and ready-mades, triumphed by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Marcel Duchamp, and at the same time, developing highly sophisticated forms of fabrication, as exemplified by Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami. These contemporary strategies to making sculpture are continued with some of the artists featured in the Medicine Now gallery. Click each image for more information.

Robert Rauschenberg, Canyon. 1959. (© 2014 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel. 1951. (© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp)

Jeff Koons, Pink Panther. 1988. (© 2014 Jeff Koons)

Takashi Murakami, Fire sculpture. 2013. (© 2013 Takashi Murakami / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

Damien Hirst, Mother and Child (Divided). 1993-2007. (© Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.)

In the first space in Medicine Now, on the theme of Obesity and Genetics, there are two sculptures produced by John Isaacs and Rob Kesseler. Isaacs’ sculpture is striking and one of the first works visitors recognise in the gallery. I Can’t Help the Way I Feel was produced in 2004 and made predominantly from wax. Wax and wax-like materials such as fibreglass plastic have been investigated by a range of contemporary artists from Duane Hanson to Ron Mueck, predominantly in the pursuit of hyperrealism and strange, uncanny representations of the body.

John Isaacs, I Can Not Help The Way I Feel. 2003. (Courtesy of Wellcome Collection, London.)

Duane Hanson, Man on Mower. 1995. (© Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA/New York, NY)

Ron Mueck, A Girl. 2006. (© National Gallery of Canada.)

Despite its popularity as a material, this is not your typical wax sculpture of a famous celebrity you would find at Madame Tussaud’s. John Isaacs’s sculpture, in effect, could represent anyone and, at the same time, serves as an allegory of obesity; the ultimate visualisation of excessive consumption, corpulence and greed. The sculpture is pulsating and visceral, a quality which Isaacs exaggerates and seizes as an opportunity to strike our imagination about the possibilities of obesity. Perhaps the most terrifying aspect represented through its amorphous curves and folds is the anonymity of such a sculpture which could at once appear realistic and unknown. In this way, Isaacs presents a subject which is less about itself and more about our own critical reception and attitudes towards body image and its relationship to space.

Shown together with Kesseler’s, Bud, from 2002, the two sculptures deliberate ideas of consumption and the body. In contrast to Isaacs, who is much more hands on and appreciates the materiality and humanity of sculpture, Kessler presents a sculpture with no trace of his body and emphasises the sophisticated processes of creating new media through its fabrication.

Rob Kesseler, Bud. 2002. (Courtesy of the artist and Wellcome Collection, London.)

The sculpture is a glass vessel, shaped like a wine glass, missile or trophy, and filled with genetically modified soy beans. Kessler’s exploration of genetic modification considers some of the multifaceted positions surrounding the subject.

On one level, there are the unknown consequences of genetic modification. In particular, there is the concern that genetically modified foods could adversely affect our health while having an unforeseen impact on the environment. On another level, there are the obvious advantages of genetic modification: accelerated food production could yield a surplus which could eradicate hunger and world poverty.

Kesseler’s slickness and austere minimalism is used to great effect with this work of art and is a characteristic which follows some of the other key works in Medicine Now, including sculptures by Mauro Peruchetti, Annie Cattrell and Luke Jerram. The act of reducing an object to its most basic form is used to demonstrate the spiritual essence or physicality of a work of art, as spearheaded with modernist masters such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Richard Serra. In other cases it is used to emphasise ideas of industrialisation, consumerism and mechanical reproduction, exemplified by the gaudy, oversized sculptures of cheeseburgers, ice cream and cake by Claes Oldenburg, comparable to Peruchetti’s series of deliciously coloured  jelly babies made from polyurethane. Everyday life, through both subject matter and material, thus becomes a central focus of contemporary sculpture displayed in Medicine Now and remains an integral aspect of international artists working today.

Annie Cattrell, SENSE. 2001-2003. (Courtesy of the artist and Wellcome Collection, London.)

Donald Judd, Untitled (Stack). 1967. (© Helen Acheson Bequest (by exchange) and gift of Joseph Helman)

Luke Jerram, Swine Flu Virus (H1N1). (Courtesy of the artist and Wellcome Collection, London.)

Mauro Perucchetti, Jelly Baby 3. 2004. (Courtesy of the artist and Wellcome Collection, London.)

Claes Oldenburg, Floor Cake. 1962. (© 2014 Claes Oldenburg.)

Guillaume is a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection.

Six weeks at New Horizon

Wellcome Collection runs a variety of creative workshops with different groups that often prove to be a cathartic and liberating experience for those who take part. Participants gradually let go of their fear of ‘doing it wrong’ and open up to each other and the artist about their lives and challenges whilst being creative together. Orla O’Donnell tells us about the latest workshop she was involved in delivering to a group of young women.

Some of the work produced by the young women from New Horizons Youth Centre.

Some of the work produced by the young women from New Horizon Youth Centre displayed at Wellcome Collection.

On 13 February 2014 I found myself walking down Euston Road with a small plastic box containing an anatomical heart model. The object and I were bound for New Horizon, based near King’s Cross. It was the start of my six week secondment to Wellcome Collection’s Youth Programme, leading me to wander down the street with a series of strange objects in plastic boxes. Week on week the objects seemed to get more peculiar. They included Chinese shoes for bound feet, a Victorian corset, a microscope, a hair mourning brooch and a glass eye.

New Horizon Youth Centre is a centre for young people who are vulnerable, homeless or at risk; they welcome over 3000 young people a year. Youth Programme set up a series of creative workshops, inspired by our handling collection (the aforementioned strange objects), with their Women’s Group. They were devised by artist Elaine Duigenan and were developed to ignite creativity, stimulate conversation and be a fun break in the sometimes difficult life of the young women.

Orla and the group catch up over a coffee at their Private View upon completion of the project.

Our first workshop was inspired by the anatomical heart (due to its close proximity to Valentine’s Day). Alongside hearing stories of heartbreak we created Valentine’s Day cards using an outline image of an anatomical heart. At the start of the project we had planned to ask the young women if we could use some of their pieces in a small display at Wellcome Collection. This week the girls decided to keep their cards as they were destined for friends or to be kept as a personal memento.

Some of the Valentine's Day cards produced by the group. (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

Some of the Valentine’s Day cards produced by the group. (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

Weeks two and three of the project were inspired by historic objects: Chinese shoes for bound feet and a Victorian corset respectively. Both provoked a lot of debate among the young women which continued as they crafted.

Inspired by the size of the tiny shoes, Elaine created two different crafts: one using a template to make a tiny paper shoe reminiscent of a child’s buckled shoe; and the other using origami. It was a little fiddly but effective. We ended up with a delightful parade of tiny shoes.

Chinese shoes for bound feet from the handling collection (left) and an example of what the girls produced in response (right). (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

Chinese shoes for bound feet from the handling collection (left) and an example of what the girls produced in response (right). (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

Week three, inspired by the restrictive nature of the corset, resulted in corset-shaped cards that were beautiful on the outside but inside revealed images of crushed organs.

Selection of the corset related cards. (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

Selection of the corset related cards. (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

Although week four was a quiet one, with only four young women in attendance, that did not quell their creativity. Microscopes were used by the young women to gaze at slides of muscles from the heart and stomach wall under a portable Newton’s Microscope. Inspired by what they had seen, the girls created their own art slides using everything from colourful paper to rice.

The art slides made by the young women. (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

The art slides made by the young women. (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

For the penultimate week we explored a Victorian hair mourning brooch, again using a microscope. This time to allow the young women to have a detailed look at their own hair before diving into the task. The girls created their own hair work keyrings using fake hair and chatted about all things hair: from how it can be used in voodoo to hair extensions.

Inspired by Victorian hair mourning brooches, the group produced keyrings using fake hair. (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

Inspired by Victorian hair mourning brooches, the group produced keyrings using fake hair. (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

For the final workshop at New Horizon we focused on prosthetic glass eyes. As the glass eye was passed around there was a mixed reaction from the girls. The making involved dropping nail varnish on glass slides to create eyes that brought to mind the ‘evil eye’ symbol.

Using glass eyes as inspiration, the girls crafted using nail varnish and paint (below) to produce the finished work (above). (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

Using glass eyes as inspiration, the girls crafted using nail varnish and paint (below) to produce the finished work (above). (image credit ©Elaine Duigenan)

It may have been the intoxicating smell of nail varnish in the air but there was a sense of sadness as I said goodbye to the wonderful staff and fabulous young women from New Horizon. I would like to extend I massive thank you to Elaine Duigenan and all the young women and staff from New Horizon for their creativity and enthusiasm throughout this project.

Orla is a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection.

Object of the month: After Image

As we continue on our curious journey, most of Medicine Now remains open as (un)usual. Charlie Morgan takes a look at one of its objects on display, Alexa Wright’s photograph After Image, as April’s Object of the Month.

Alexa Wright, After Image, 1997

Alexa Wright, After Image, 1997

Most people reading this blog will have two arms and two legs. However, the average (here recall your school maths) may well be somewhere just below two of each. Losing a limb through accident or deliberate amputation is uncommon but it is certainly not rare. Taking surgical amputations as an example, five to six thousand operations are carried out in the UK every year – and, notably, about nine out of every ten of them will result in phantom limb syndrome.

A phantom limb is a slightly ghoulish term that’s used to refer to the sensation that an amputated limb is still there. The feelings that result range from mild tickling to intense pain. In Medicine Now a photograph by Alexa Wright shows a disfigured and odd-looking arm extending from just above the elbow of a seated woman, but the arm itself is not real; it’s the visualisation of a phantom limb. The woman (who did not attach her name to the photograph) was in a devastating car crash nine years before the photograph was taken and as a result had her left arm amputated. Like most amputees she subsequently suffered from phantom limb syndrome. Yet despite the discomfort and pain of this, she does give us a perhaps unexpected perspective: “I wasn’t born like this and obviously I do miss my arm, yet sometimes the phantom pain makes me feel whole again.”

Historically, work on phantom limbs has been hamstrung by a lack of knowledge of what causes them. The phenomenon was for a long time thought to be a psychological one, but scientists now suggest it may originate in the brain and spinal cord. My lack of scientific knowledge prevents me from delving too deeply into this and so I want to focus on a different side of the story: the way rehabilitation has been limited.

For years the solution to phantom limbs was thought to be medication, medication, medication; on the whole this had marginal results. Yet if you speak to a Visitor Experience Assistant in Medicine Now or if you are visiting when an object handling session is taking place you might well get the chance to see our mirror box. A mirror box is what you might call a Ronseal-type object – it is a box with a mirror stuck on the side.

For individuals with four limbs it can be used to demonstrate the disjunction that can occur between what the eyes see and what the brain experiences but for people with phantom limbs it can be a very effective form of pain relief. By essentially tricking the brain, the reflection of the one remaining arm or leg can be perceived as that which is missing and the body’s ‘need’ for its absent limb can be realised. Similar work can be done with prosthetic hands or virtual technology.

The photograph taken by Alexa Wright is one of a series of 24 and they can all be seen on her website. In each, you can see the individual with their missing arm or leg and also with their phantom limb. The photographs are humanising and shed some light on one of the many medical conundrums that we still have no complete answer to. Despite the grand narratives and concepts of medical science that we often defer to, the experience of the individual is still paramount.

 Charlie is a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection.