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Sleep Paralysis: A brief history of fear, treatment and artistic creativity

During sleep we enter a state of altered consciousness. While the brain remains active, our perception is largely reduced. Some sleep disorders disrupt this balance: sleepwalkers become physically active while remaining in a deep sleep and sleep paralysis can occur at the fringes of sleep. Sarah Jaffray takes us through the latter as she explores the stuff of nightmares. 

“…and slowly waking from it – half steeped in dreams – I opened my eyes and the before sunlit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen and nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine.”

– Ishmael, Chapter 4, Moby Dick

Today we use the term ‘nightmare’ to explain a generally frightening dream or unpleasant experience, but until the late 19th century the term night-mare (hyphen included) was exclusively descriptive of sleep paralysis, a sleep disorder in which the body is temporarily immobilised at the moment of waking or the moment of falling asleep. It is a minor, yet common, body/mind malfunction that upwards of 50% of the population claims to have experienced at least once in their lifetime.

Regular bouts of sleep paralysis can be a symptom of conditions like narcolepsy or PTSD, but sometimes these conditions do not provoke sleep paralysis at all. Random occurrences of sleep paralysis typically stem from periods marked by lack of sleep, medical or anaesthetic error or high levels of stress. The unpredictability of this parasomnia makes it all the more frightening when it happens. Continue reading

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Would like to meet: Nelly

This blog series gives you a chance to find out a little more about the people behind the desk at Wellcome Collection, the team of artists, academics, musicians, researchers, comedians and more. Among many other things, they invigilate galleries; write and provide tours and “busking” sessions; they work on exhibitions, events and special projects; and they offer information and guidance to our visitors every day. It’s all in a day’s work for our VEAs, so come and meet the team.

Anna Firbank introduces Nelly Ekström, one of our Visitor Experience Assistant (VEA) team members bringing the galleries and exhibitions to life. 

Hi to Nelly! Nelly is from Sweden and adding to the growing landscape of backgrounds working at Wellcome Collection, her field of interest is Museum Studies and Cultural Heritage Management. Nelly’s previous jobs include being a technician at Waldemarsudde art museum in Sweden and an Educator at Skansen, Stockholm’s open air museum of Swedish history. Her interests extend widely beyond museums as well: you will find she is strong on antique mythology, painting, textile handicrafts and “everything Swedish except sports.”

In the galleries, you are likely to find Nelly surrounded by boxes of spices: nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. “I do a ‘busk’ [one of our interactive mini-tours] on the subject of spices and how they have been used in medicine and as protection against disease throughout history. The more times I do it the more I get into the subject. I research more and more things like folklore traditions, trading routes and old recipes; anything that relates to the history of spices.” Continue reading

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The humours in Shakespeare

On 23 April 2016 we mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. One way we’re celebrating this anniversary is by exploring the four bodily humours and their effect on some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Nelly Ekström tells us more about the humours and how they’ve been represented in the work of the Bard of Avon. 

“Everey man humour hath his adjuct pleasure,
Wherein it finds joy above the rest”.

– William Shakespeare, sonnet 91

One of the uncountable ways Shakespeare’s work is so wonderful and relevant for us today is because of the knowledge it gives us about the world he lived in. His writing is one of the most important sources for the knowledge we have about medicine in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. His works contains a lot of information on the contemporary medical practices of the time, but also show the social history of medicine: how medicine formed a part of people’s lives and thoughts.

In Shakespeare’s time, the understanding of medicine and the human body was based on the theory of the four bodily humours. This idea dates back to ancient Greece where the body was seen more or less as a shell containing four different humours, or fluids: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. The humours affect your whole being, from your health and feelings to your looks and actions. Continue reading

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Wellcome feedback

 

Wellcome Collection is anything but conventional, even when it comes to the way we evaluate ourselves. Like many organisations, we’re interested in the experience, attitudes and behaviour of our audiences as they visit Wellcome Collection. One of the ways we explore this looks at behaviour, without any preconceptions about what visitors will do, in a participative way. Felisa Dios Bascuas tells us about one example of this and shares her favourites.

“Creative Investigation” is a new way in which we’re receiving feedback from our visitors. We are evaluating our spaces and what we do in them in a creative way by allowing our visitors to give feedback in any way they see fit, be it drawing, poetry or anything else that fits on one of our comment cards. Our aim is to get a better understanding of why people visit Wellcome Collection and our exhibitions, what their opinions are about the spaces themselves, as well as what we do. We basically want to know what you think of us and what/how we can improve. Continue reading

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Van Gogh’s portrait of a doctor

Paul-Ferdinand Gachet was a maverick physician who had a consulting room in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. He was an art lover/collector, amateur artist and a friend of many artists, including Vincent van Gogh. Sarah Jaffray tells us about their brief but significant relationship, resulting in the only etching Van Gogh ever created.

In 1927 Henry Wellcome came to acquire a portrait of a famous doctor by his even more famous patient. The doctor, Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, was a pioneer of medicine, famous for his treatment of melancholia and for being a proponent of vitalism, homeopathy and electro-therapy. The artist, Vincent van Gogh, was a pioneer of artistic style and famous for his early, tragic death. It was Captain Peter Johnston-Saint, Secretary of Wellcome’s museum and his main collector in Europe, who acquired the print for Wellcome alongside a sundry of Gachet’s medical objects. Continue reading

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Inspired: Harlow’s Monkeys

Sometimes provocative and always interesting, this series of shorter stories can be inspired by pretty much anything in Wellcome Collection and offers a quick insight into some of the themes we explore. This one comes from Rock Webb.

I’m inspired by the reincarnated Reading Room that opened just over a year ago. I love the different niches and various lounge areas, notably the space where we have a publication rack containing all manner of magazines, journals and periodicals. I am drawn to one in particular: issue 55 of Cabinet, a “quarterly of art and culture”. On the cover of this “Love” edition is a striking image of a baby rhesus macaque cuddling an artificial mother.

Harry Harlow was a psychologist who conducted research in the 1950s into the nature of the relationship between infant and parent, with a particular focus on the effects of isolation and maternal deprivation. Noticing that the laboratory hand-reared baby monkeys became stressed when their cage blankets were removed for washing, he could see they were attached to their blanket. To Harlow, this appeared to show an inconsistency with the benchmark theory at that time: Sigmund Freud’s “nourishment-association” notion of attachment. Continue reading

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Instagram takeover

Next week Wellcome Images are taking over our Instagram account to showcase a selection of this year’s winning images. As if one visual feast isn’t enough, we’ll be taking over the 52museums account at the same time. Hannah Brown and Russell Dornan tell us more.

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The Wellcome Image Awards explore science and medicine through a combination of traditional artistic media and cutting-edge scientific imaging techniques. The 15th Wellcome Image Awards will be presented on 15 March 2016.

“The power of a visual image to communicate a message is incredible.”

Dr Alice Roberts, Wellcome Image Awards Judge

Next week Wellcome Images will be taking over Wellcome Collection’s Instagram account. We will be posting two of this year’s winning images each day from 7-11 March. Follow #2016WIA while we bring you the stories behind a selection of 2016’s winning images.

From hand-drawn illustrations to super-resolution microscopy, these award winning images bring to life a world of science often hidden to the naked eye. Continue reading