Queer Territory: Claude Cahun and a land without labels

In the first of our posts for LGBT History Month, Sarah Jaffray looks at how the artist Claude Cahun explored the parodies of gender.

In her 1930 auto-biography Disavowals artist-writer Claude Cahun addressed the question of her identity, explaining: “Shuffle the cards. Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation.” Long before the articulation of Queer Theory in Judith Butler’s seminal Gender Trouble (1990), Cahun and her partner (both in art and life) Marcel Moore explored the masquerade of gendered existence. They worked decades before anyone was ready to accept that gender is a social construction.  Continue reading



We invited artists to programme or perform live vocalisations in the ‘THIS IS A VOICE‘ gallery space over the show’s run (exhibition closes 31 July). These daily events offered an intimate, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the mechanics of voice production and vocal exercises. Elissavet Ntoulia reflects on this unorthodox programme of events. 

59 live performances over 10 weeks by 9 artists inside ‘THIS IS A VOICE‘ exhibition: Voicings can officially go down in Wellcome Collection’s exhibition history as the first programme of daily live performances.

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Meredith Monk’s Ascension Variations (2009) in New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

Although performance in museums is not new, the recent opening of the new Tate Modern has shown yet again how performance has been gaining ground recently in big institutions. It can vary from large scale, all-building occupations like Meredith Monk’s (whose work also features in ‘THIS IS A VOICE’) Ascension Variations (2009) in New York’s Guggenheim, to in-gallery performances like that of the work of choreographer Merce Cunningham in Barbican’s ‘The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns’ exhibition (2013). Performance art of any kind and scale has also been seen by institutions as adding value towards their effort for creating unique visitor experiences and offering increased opportunities for interaction and participation. Continue reading

Lois Weaver as her alter-ego, Tammy WhyNot.

Tammy Wants You!

In April – May 2015 Lois Weaver will put on a series of performances at Wellcome Collection in response to the Institute of Sexology. Ahead of these performances, she’s looking to assemble a team of hostesses along the lines of her persona, Tammy WhyNot. Could you be one of them?

A series of performance interventions hosted by the sensational Tammy WhyNot will take place as part of Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology over the next few months. Tammy is the creation of performance artist, writer, director, scholar, activist, Lois Weaver. Tammy claims to be a trailer park survivor who gave up Nashville to become a lesbian performance artist and a university researcher. Now, she needs your help!

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Touching/Feeling (Owen Parry), photo by Christa Holka.

Cruising for art

We’re halfway through the run of an in-gallery event series as part of the Institute of Sexology exhibition. Brian Lobel is the curator of Cruising for Art and explains how the rules and etiquette of cruising inspired this event format and how your eye contact, smile or wink may start a wild journey, tender moment or intimate conversation.

For two weeks at the Institute of Sexology, Cruising for Art brings unpredictability and live interaction to the already adventurous and bold exhibition. Each day, three different artists are spread throughout the gallery: some under tables; others inside Orgone Collecting Boxes; some just looking at exhibition pieces. Audience members grab a bandana to wear and so become cruisers, encouraged to make eye contact and connect with a stranger.  They cruise around the gallery hoping to make eye contact with a performer: while some performers are extravagantly dressed, others are dressed normally, encouraging people to make eye contact with everyone…who knows what can happen?

Blurring the boundaries between performer and audience has always been one of the most thrilling aspects of Cruising for Art which has previously featured in the V&A and Latitude Festival, among others. It opens up possibilities for unexpected conversations and tentative approaches between non-perfomers which genuinely mimic the motion of people looking to connect romantically, sexually or intimately. If an audience member and Cruising artist connect, the Cruising artist brings the audience member to a private space for a one to one performance.

Everything About You (Season Butler), photo by Christa Holka.

Everything About You (Season Butler), photo by Christa Holka.

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A to Z of the Human Condition: I is for Individuality

We invited you, as fellow experts on the #HumanCondition, to add your own idiosyncrasies to our current exhibition by submitting photographs on Instagram for a few of the themes explored in the gallery. As a thank you for your wonderful pictures, this series explores those themes and finds out the roles they play in making us human. This week, Alli Burness takes a look at our collective reflection as she explores the (in)famous selfie, illustrated by your photos.

Selfies receive a lot of bad press. For some, they’re the manifestation of a self-obsessed, narcissistic society. We’re impelled to step back from significant or sombre moments in our lives to share selfies online. These images taken in front of the Mona Lisa, at funerals or even at Auschwitz visualise uncaring, thoughtless moments. But I think there is more to selfies than meets the eye.

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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.

Bodily Possibilities Workshop

It isn’t often on a Sunday morning that you see twelve people, old and young, roll across the floor and find new expressions within their own bodies. It is this kind of event that makes Wellcome Collection so unique, fusing ideas of science and art with the body. Kate Gosling was one of those people and discusses what was involved.

The workshop (part of a series of events accompanying Foreign Bodies, Common Ground), led by Nana Dakin and Kage, evolved from the residency of B-Floor Theatre at the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Tropical Medicine Research Programme in Bangkok, Thailand. The residency explored research into malaria and other tropical diseases, and the parasites and other illness-giving agents that can take over our body and cause it to react and change in a way that might be completely new to us. The ideas of these bodily possibilities, which originate when we are well and when we are ill, used ideas of movement to bring these ideas to life.

Bodily Possibilities Workshop

Kage showed the group how to move their stomachs around like there was ‘a worm’ or a disease in them. He talked them through this new sensation, making it seem real to them through the dialogue and story he presented. It was new to them, this disease, they had never felt it before, and then it started moving all around their body and making different parts of them twitch in different ways. Eventually it hit their brains and their face. The ideas of cerebral malaria came to mind in what went from a gentle mime to one that gave terrifying fit-like movements. Eventually, although it was not explicit, Kage asked that everyone imagine they held it in their cheeks, thousands of these ‘worms’, and then spat them out. And he said, “Well done, you are all healthy again”. They had been through an illness without being ill. Could they connect with some of this feeling of being well again on a cellular level?

Bodily Possibilities Workshop

Creation ideas and ideas linked with evolution followed. Kage had a powerful way of presenting movement through the idea of becoming other animals. Everyone was crawling on the floor like an amoeba, a one-cell creation. Nana and Kage started everyone playing rock, paper, and scissors. When you won you evolved into multi-cellular animals, and everyone went from amoeba to worm, frog, monkey and human in a game that playfully followed in Charles Darwin’s footsteps! I thought it was funny that people seemed to have a sense of pride in becoming human and staying human. Although one woman said that the workshop had helped her feel closer to all living species.

The second part of the workshop used objects: tools as an extension of our bodies and us. The participants were given objects and Kage asked them: if you were a cellular body other than a human, how would you interact with this object? Some had colourful hula hoop pipes that could spiral into a DNA-style helix; others had balloons, scarves, jumpers and plastic bags. One of the bags is featured in a video currently showing in our Foreign Bodies, Common Ground exhibition.

Bodily Possibilities Workshop

In sets of between two and four, participants who had only known each other a few hours performed together for the others, showcasing their new movements and the new bodily possibilities that they had created and found within themselves. There was lots of humour as well as serious elements and everyone seemed to work well together without self-consciousness.

I asked Nana what B-Floor might be doing next. She said that they hoped to continue this kind of workshops because the time they had on the residency had been a real journey. The success of their workshop was evident and many of the participants asked if we were repeating this type of event.

Bodily Possibilities Workshop

In terms of the bigger picture revealed within Foreign Bodies, Nana expresses the idea of research and the implications within the community as “zooming in and zooming out”. That phrase really appeals to me. She says a big theme in B-Floor is the sense of examining tiny things under a microscope and also looking at the larger social and political impact.

Nana says: “we want to know how it works. Why is it that way? How does it connect to these circumstances, these structures, these environments, these people? And how can I explain this to someone else? How can I convince them that it is valid? We gather information, we make conclusions, we make hypotheses and we ask more questions. We wonder if our work will have an impact; will it change the lives of people around us? Will it alter the lives of those who come after us? We zoom in and we zoom out.”

Foreign Bodies, Common Ground has been extended to 16th March 2014.

Kate Gosling is a Visitor Services Assistant at Wellcome Collection.