Jason and the Adventure of 254
Captions and transcripts

Showcasing Jason Wilsher-Mills’ largest and most personal commission to date, this exhibition is a joyful exploration of the body, drawing on the artist’s experience of becoming disabled as a child.

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Digital Guide

A highlights tour is available here, with audio description (AD) and British Sign Language (BSL). 

The tour has ten stops, each around four minutes long, and features Jason’s voice. 

BSL and AD can be accessed via QR code, along with all exhibition texts in screen-readable formats. 

AD can also be accessed using the touch-button players below. For instructions on how to use the player, key in 700.  

Use your phone to scan the QR code, or pick up a player below and follow the track numbers. 

You can use our WiFi for free. Turn your device’s WiFi on and select Wellcome WiFi. 

Please speak to a member of staff if you need help.

The 254

‘Jason and the Adventure of 254’ (2024) is Jason Wilsher-Mills’ most monumental and personal artwork to date. It transports us back in time to Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield on 1 August 1980 at 2.54pm. This was when Wilsher-Mills witnessed his parents being told of the autoimmune condition that paralysed him from the neck down from the age of 11 to 16. This moment coincided exactly with British athlete Sebastian Coe, wearing the number 254, winning the 1500-metre race at the Moscow Olympics, which was being shown on the ward’s TV.  

While he was unable to move, Jason’s interior world was inhabited by characters from comic strips and TV shows, intertwined with memories of his experiences of life both before and during his hospitalisation. Rather than remembering it as a time of trauma or loss, he sees it as the awakening of his creative life as an artist. The installation is a dreamlike distillation of his childhood memories of what was happening inside and outside his body, and within his imagination during this transformative period. 

The artist talks about the significance of the objects in the room on the digital guide, available in audio and BSL formats.

Everything in this gallery can be touched.

Calliper Boots

Calliper boots are a type of orthopaedic device. They were one of many painful adaptive technologies that Wilsher-Mills was given to wear as a child. He has since reclaimed them as a symbol of pride by reinventing them as boots that he would choose to wear, transforming them into an expression of identity, which he frequently includes in his work.

Seb Coe

Jason can pinpoint the exact time of his diagnosis to 2.54pm, as it coincided with Sebastian Coe winning the 1500-metre race in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which was being shown on the ward’s ever-present TV. 254 also happened to be Coe’s racing number. Wilsher-Mills talks about the significance of this number and the moment that his life altered for ever, directing him towards his path as an artist.

Figure in the Bed

Jason remained bedbound for most of the year he spent in Pinderfields Hospital. His doctor explained Jason’s autoimmune condition as an army of white blood cells in his body that were attacking him instead of defending him. This figure represents Jason’s memory of what was happening to his body, his feet swollen to massive proportions to symbolise pain, and light signals depicting the neurological pathways from his brain to his body gone awry.

Memory and Myth

Wilsher-Mills is the youngest of eight children from a working-class family who grew up in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Family occupies a central position in Wilsher-Mills’ life and was a crucial connection to the outside world while he was in hospital. Through the hospital school he gained new educational experiences, which he credits as being instrumental in his path to becoming an artist. 

Dotted around the gallery are push-button-operated dioramas, reminiscent of the penny-arcade machines Wilsher-Mills remembers from family holidays at the seaside resort of Withernsea in Yorkshire and the Humber. These vignettes act as windows into his childhood memories of the time preceding and during his hospitalisation. They are not straightforward depictions, but are infused with a dreamlike magic realism where myth and memory merge. Rich in symbolism, they denote stages of transformation in his life, from childhood through puberty to changes in his health and his creative journey. They also provide clues about the sources of Wilsher-Mills’ inspiration. 

Press the buttons to activate Jason’s inner life.


Withernsea, a seaside town in Yorkshire and the Humber, was the site of annual family holidays and Jason remembers it as a magical place. It is also the place where he first became ill after contracting chickenpox. He is pictured here playing with his sister on the beach, viruses looming on the horizon as a sign of what was to come.

You Look Like My Dad with Hen’s Legs

Ward D was a hospital ward for teenage boys and men in Pinderfields Hospital, where Jason spent the first year of his paralysis. The boy in the bed opposite had a brain injury following a serious car crash. He used to call out bizarre phrases, like, “You look like my dad with hen’s legs,” which formed vivid images in Jason’s imagination.

Uncle Jimmy Kissing the Ferret

Wilsher-Mills is proud of his working-class roots and culture. This is epitomised by his uncle Jimmy, who had a ferret that he claimed was so tame that he could kiss it. His demonstration ended, inevitably, in bloodshed. Here the ferret becomes enlarged to human size to depict this comedic episode.

The Fruit and the Pee

This scene tells the story of Jason’s brother-in-law, who used to annoy Jason by eating the fruit left at his bedside without asking. One day, he ate one of Jason’s apples, which, unbeknown to him, had accidently been covered in urine earlier – a fact that Jason gleefully relayed after his brother-in-law had eaten it.

Mum as a Mermaid

Wilsher-Mills’ mother was a key figure in his life and his principal carer, who fought for Jason to retain his independence during his confinement. He recalls childhood memories of her swimming in the North Sea at night during family holidays at Withernsea, illuminated by jellyfish. Here, she has been transformed into a mermaid, dancing with a disabled North Sea cod.


Before his illness, Jason was a skilled rugby-league player and was captain of his team. In ‘Trinity’, he explores themes of puberty, adolescence and the loss of his physical ability. He imagines what his life might have been like in a parallel universe.

Uncle Dennis and the Inseminoids

Wilsher-Mills’ uncle Dennis was the first person in his family to own a VHS player. He used to visit Jason and tell him about the films he had been watching. This represents Jason’s imagining of ‘Inseminoid’, a 1981 sci-fi horror film that Wilsher-Mills has never seen, which becomes a metaphor for his experience of puberty.

The Hippo Scare

When Jason was five years old, his sister took him to Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, a dilapidated Victorian zoo in Manchester. He was terrified by a hippo emerging from the murky waters. He now thinks of this as the moment he realised there was a world much bigger than him. The hippo has grown wings as a metaphor for Jason’s creativity.

Painting with My Mouth

Hospital school provided Jason with a personalised education that would have been otherwise unavailable to him. He learned about the work of artists and authors, and how to paint using his mouth. This vignette is inspired by a portrait of Charles Dickens, author of Wilsher-Mills’ favourite novel, ‘Great Expectations’ (1861), whose main character Pip’s life and social status is transformed through education.

The 254 Wall of Facts

This timeline charts the year that Jason spent in Pinderfields Hospital. Inspired by the annual bumper editions of his favourite comic, The Beano, it maps the progression of his illness alongside events in the wider world. Popular culture, TV in particular, became the main way Jason kept track of time while he was in hospital. He remembers when he got his first wheelchair by recalling who was playing Doctor Who at the time, and portrays himself as a Dalek undergoing medical treatment.



Jason gets chickenpox and he is ill. At the same time, his dad has a very bad back, so he takes the living-room door off its hinges and lies on top of it on the living-room floor. He takes the handle off first. 


Pac-Man, one of the most popular arcade video games of all time, is released and becomes a pop-culture sensation. 

After he has recovered from chickenpox, Jason goes to Knaresborough with his sister Ang and her husband Ron. He goes to visit the cave of Old Mother Shipton, England’s most famous prophetess. He starts to feel a bit ill and struggles to walk. On his return he finds out that Cliff Thorburn has won the World Snooker Championship. 

BBC2 launches a computer-generated clock, which is probably the first in the world. 


The sixpence coin is withdrawn from circulation. 

Jason continues to feel unwell. His mother takes him to the doctor. The doctors say: “You are being hysterical.” The GP says: “It’s just growing pains.” He’s unable to walk and spends most days on the settee. He watches the telly and the world outside the window. 

Jason is admitted to hospital. He has been unwell for weeks now. A GP comes to visit him at home and calls for an ambulance. Blue lights flash and all the children at the school that Jason attended line the fence and ask, “Where are you going, Wilsh?” They wave as the ambulance drives away, with sirens blaring. He is ‘enjoying’ the excitement. 

The best-selling single of 1980 was ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’ by the Police (this was played on the ward all of the time!). 


Unemployment hits a 44-year high of nearly 1.9 million. 

Every week Jason has to have a lumbar puncture. He curls up in a ball and has a needle inserted into his spine. It is very painful, but the doctors are trying to find out the cause of the weakness in his legs and arms. It is a difficult time, but life on D Ward is hectic and exciting. 

Telly: All of Jason’s time in hospital is measured by what he watches on telly.


Great Britain competes at the Olympics in Moscow and wins five gold, seven silver and nine bronze medals. 


Seb Coe and Steve Ovett are about to start an incredibly exciting race, the 1500-metre men’s final at the Moscow Olympics. Jason is in bed. The TV is opposite him and he is watching it avidly. The consultant pediatrician is doing his rounds and Jason’s mum and dad are being told that Jason will not survive and will be lucky to reach the age of 16. His mum and dad are very upset, but Jason is more interested in the result of the race… Seb Coe won! 

The number Seb Coe wears for the race is 254, which corresponds strangely with the time that Jason is diagnosed. Surely this is just a coincidence? 

The top film of 1980 was ’Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’. 

As Jason continues to get weaker, there is a threat that he has to go into an iron lung. This is a terrible thing and he is so scared. Every hour he has to blow into a peak-flow meter to ensure that he has enough breath to keep breathing unaided. He manages to do this, as the fear of an iron lung is so great – he would miss some quality telly. 

Iron Lung: The threat of the iron lung continues, but Jason fights to keep breathing. He is frightened of the thought of his head sticking out of the metal tube. Of being locked in. Of having to leave D Ward, which has now become a familiar home. 


The US science-fiction series ‘Battlestar Galactica’ makes its debut on ITV. 

Throughout all this time he is in bed and sees young people and children passing him who are in wheelchairs. They are attending the hospital special school, which is in a classroom at the end of the ward. Jason is desperate to have a wheelchair so that he can get out and about. He dreams of a vehicle that will get him out of bed. 

In 1980 Tom Baker, who played Jason’s favourite Doctor, was in his last season of ‘Doctor Who’. 

Jason’s time in hospital is scary but visiting times make things bearable. His days are marked by the TV, which is always on. He watches the world go by but feels very distant from it. The ward is split into men and boys and the men tell Jason stories about their adventures in World War II. The men tell rude jokes and Jason laughs. 

Jason tries his first wheelchair. The nurses get him out of bed with the physios. He starts to pass out because he hasn’t been out of bed in months, but it is an exciting day. He dreams of wheels and freedom. 


Jason has lots of visitors. His extended family, all seven brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts come to see and entertain him with wonderful stories. They always bring him lovely sweets and gifts. He feels sorry for his sister Tracey, as he now gets all the attention. 

Jason is losing control of his hands. He has a bed cradle over his legs because he cannot bear for the bedclothes to touch his skin. He is getting severe sensory signals, like pulses from his feet, and sometimes feels like his feet are huge. 

Super Hands: Jason loses sensation in his arms and hands. He imagines that he is an arm tree because he no longer feels that they belong to him. 


The Rubik’s Cube puzzle becomes an international sensation and a pop-culture fad of the early 1980s. 

The news headlines are that John Lennon has been shot. Jason hears ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ for the first time. It changes his life. He realises that there are other people like him, because the song represents creativity and self-expression… he has never been so excited. He doesn’t really know what an artist is, but thinks he might be one. 

Leg End: Jason’s fear of being in hospital and never going home increases, but he starts to attend Pinderfields Hospital Special School and they teach him to paint with his mouth. All the ideas that he’s had, which have been locked up while he was in bed, are set free and he can put paint to paper and experience life again, a life that he is missing. He decides he wants to become an artist.

July 1981

Jason finally goes home after a year in hospital. He has his wheelchair now and is on his journey to becoming an artist.


Jason and the Adventure of 254

Jason Wilsher-Mills is an artist from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, UK. In his work he explores narratives of disability, health and identity, using playful humour and colourful magic realism. His inspiration ranges from sources as diverse as The Beano and the works of Charles Dickens, as well as making reference to the ancient Greek hero after whom he was named. 

Wilsher-Mills creates new ways of storytelling that reflect the social model of disability – the idea that it is society that is disabling by not accommodating the full range of human needs.  

Wilsher-Mills’ new work, ‘Jason and the Adventure of 254’ (2024), was inspired by looking at objects from Wellcome Collection’s anatomical collections, which triggered memories of his own hospitalisation as a child. The sketchbooks on display show the drawings Wilsher-Mills produced daily in preparation for the new work. Sketching by hand is a new process for Wilsher-Mills – in the filmed interview he reveals how sketching has become a therapeutic way for him to process his memories.  

The artist talks about different elements of the commission on our digital guide, available in audio and BSL formats. Access them using the handsets provided or QR codes on your phone.

Interview with Jason Wilsher-Mills

7min 24sec
Film by Ollie Isaac, Ricardo Barbosa and Jeremy Bryans
Filmed at Wellcome Collection, London, MDM Props, London, and the artist’s studio, Sleaford, UK
© Wellcome Collection

In this short film, Wilsher-Mills discusses some of the inspirations behind his new commission for Wellcome Collection. He also talks about his artistic process and shares behind-the-scenes footage that reveals how the works were made.

Jason Wilsher-Mills’ sketchbooks

Replicas of sketches, June to December 2023

These copies of sketchbooks show a selection of the 400 drawings that Wilsher-Mills made as preparation for his exhibition. They show the development of the artwork, from his initial ideas to the refining of the individual details. These copies have been enlarged and are designed to be handled. Wilsher-Mills’ original A5 sketchbooks will be acquired by Wellcome Collection at the end of the exhibition.

The ‘Jason and the Adventure of 254’ booklet

The printed booklet that accompanies the exhibition contains an essay by curator Shamita Sharmacharja, which you can read via the link below:
The Adventures of Jason Wilsher-Mills’.


In Conversation with Jason Wilsher-Mills

Tuesday 21 May 2024, 18:30–20:00
Wednesday 22 May 2024, 18:30–20:00

In-gallery conversations with artist Jason Wilsher-Mills and curator Shamita Sharmacharja.

Free, in-person event, booking required.
British Sign Language. Relaxed.

Piecing Us Together

Saturday 15 June 2024, 11:00–16:00
Sunday 16 June 2024, 11:00–16:00

A drop-in participatory craft workshop exploring our memories of childhood, health and joyful creativity. Share your story and contribute to a growing collective display.

Free, in-person event, booking required.
British Sign Language. Relaxed.

Relaxed Openings

Thursday 9 May 2024, 18:30–20:30
Sunday 21 July 2024, 18:30–20:30
Friday 23 August 2024, 10:00–12:00
Thursday 7 November 2024, 10:00–12:00
Saturday 4 January 2025, 18:30–20:30

If you need additional support to enjoy this exhibition, join us for a Relaxed Opening. There will be fewer people and extra staff to help you. We will provide a visual story in advance. There will also be sensory equipment and a chill-out room available.

Visit wellcomecollection.org/events for details and for further events.


Shamita Sharmacharja  

Project Manager
Georgia Monk  

Touring Exhibitions Manager
Rachel Sturgis  

Emma Smith  

Gallery Manager
Christian Kingham

Ollie Isaacs, Ricardo Barbosa, Jeremy Bryans  

Exhibition Design
Martin McGrath Studio  

Furniture Design
Sam Brown Design 

Lighting Design
DHA Designs 

Graphic Production

Artwork Fabrication
MDM Props, Kevin Harlow, Megaflatables  

3D Modelling
Hot Knife Digital Media 

Exhibition Build
Made by Jon Lloyd  

Install Technicians
Exhibition Site Management, Lawrence Corby, Lucy Woodhouse  

Interpretation Producer
Ruth Garde  

Audio Guide

BSL Guide
Samuel Dore, Alexandra Shaw, Marcel Hirshman 

We would like to thank
Jason Wilsher-Mills, Hannah Moulds, Kate Watson, Michelle Lally, John Cairns, Ross MacFarlane, Verity Parkin, Stefania Signorello, Alice Evans, Honor Beddard and our colleagues who have generously lent their expertise and ideas to this exhibition and contributed to its planning and delivery.