Wellcome Collection

C0017129 Medicine Man Exhibition displaysThe Wellcome Collection bills itself as a “destination for the incurably curious”, and indeed, the last time I was there I spent a good few minutes opening the drawers of a large cabinet, one by one, to reveal strange old medical prints inside.

Henry Wellcome founded Burroughs Wellcome & Company in the late 19th century. The company later merged into what is now Glaxo Smith-Kline. When he died, he left his share of the company to trustees, to spend on health projects. The Wellcome Trust is currently one of the main funders of biomedical research in the UK.

The Wellcome Collection, however, is the result of Wellcome’s hobby, not of his work. Henry Wellcome collected medical artefacts from all over the world. Part of his collection is at the Science Museum in London, but a large part of it is at the Wellcome Collection, in the Medicine Man exhibit. It has Victorian prosthetics, the aforementioned cabinets with drawers, a mummy, and, oh, there’s Napoleon’s toothbrush just casually lying next to some other artefacts.

C0017134 Napoleon Bonaparte's toothbrush
Napoleon’s toothbrush.

But the Wellcome Collection has not limited itself to Wellcome’s collection. The rest of the exhibit spaces are devoted to modern artefacts, such as a high-throughput analysis robot, and an educational exhibit – also with lots of secret drawers, because that’s important. The downstairs gallery is home to a rotating exhibit, usually on the interface of science and art.

The current exhibit is Souzou, which displays art made by in-patient and day visitors of Japanese social healthcare institutions. It’s an interesting exhibit, with lots of very different pieces of art. Most of them are very repetitive, though, or very detailed. And all of it was made with easily accessible materials. One display was an entire army of little figures made out of twist ties, but my favourite was an enormous drawing of a cityscape, which you see from a distance in this timelapse.

Souzou is on until the end of this month, and then the interior of the building will undergo some renovations and there won’t be any exhibits in that space for a while. The Collection stays open, though, and they’re creating lots of new spaces, so I’m going to have to go again a few times.

Images CC-BY, credit to the Wellcome Collection. They have LOTS of CC-licenced images on the Wellcome Images site!

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