Curating the quacks

11 May 2010

 Trade card for Parker's Tonic. Wellcome Images
[object Object]

Trade card for Parker's Tonic. Wellcome Images

What does it take to put together the kind of Wellcome Collection that we call an “all-building spectacle”? Research is key.  Alex Julyan, curator of our forthcoming Quacks and Cures event, writes….

Creating ‘Quacks and Cures‘ has been a great way for me to step from art into medicine, an opportunity to indulge all sorts of passions and interests and experiment with the whole structure of a one-off event that’s part music-theatre, part science and part installation. My brief was so open that once the theme was approved I was free to give the event the shape I wanted, which is surely the best position to be in creatively.  With licence to watch films, trawl archives and have conversations that would normally be outside of my artistic sphere, it was the material and the people I encountered at Wellcome Collection that really gave ‘Quacks’ its form.

I wanted to have a strong visual identity for the event, which gave me an excuse to indulge my interest in ephemera and satirical images. Wellcome Images made me stunning reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century posters for dubious remedies, and images by the artists who mercilessly lampooned the medical profession of their day, much as the cartoonist Steve Bell might humiliate our current political leaders.

I’ve also been able to experiment with performance as a way of presenting the more theatrical elements of the medical profession. Working with trained actors, musicians and GPs (the latter group needing little or no encouragement to ham it up) has been a great way of combining the creative with the medical in a very hands-on way.

Research and more research has formed the backbone of the event and although I was reminded on a couple of occasions that I hadn’t been asked to write a book, the subject is so much richer than I had initially realised. What’s been so striking about the process is how many of the medical debates and divisions of the 18th century are still relevant today.

Alex Julyan is a London-based artist who makes small intricate sculptures from found materials and large-scale collaborative events, performances and site-specific work. Find out more about her work at