Video Tour of ‘Jason and the Adventure of 254’ with Artist Jason Wilsher-Mills

This exhibition is designed to transport you back in time to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield on the 1st of August 1980 at 2.54pm.

It’s the moment I received the news of my autoimmune condition that paralysed me from the neck down at the age of 11 until 16.

It’s the same moment that British athlete Sebastian Coe, wearing the number 254 on his chest, won the 1500-metre race at the Moscow Olympics.

And it’s also the moment I began my creative life as an artist.

I’m Jason Wilsher-Mills, and my exhibition ‘Jason and the Adventure of 254’ is all about my experiences of becoming disabled as a child.

The show captures what was happening both inside and outside my body, and also within my imagination.

The exhibition is about childhood, family, memory, but it’s also about how creativity works and where it comes from.

It’s inspired by the objects from Wellcome Collection’s anatomical collections, which triggered memories of my own hospitalisation as a child.

The installations are based on hundreds of sketches I did every day in the run-up to the show.

The dioramas are designed to look like those penny arcades you get at seaside resorts. And if you look inside, you’ll see little 3D scenes illuminating some of my formative experiences from before and during my hospitalisation.

Perhaps the most eye-catching thing in this exhibition are these enormous installations. The large figure in the hospital bed is me, and the figure with a TV for a head is actually the British athlete Sebastian Coe.

In this scene I’m 11 years old in Pinderfields Hospital, and my parents are receiving the news of my autoimmune condition, and that I would be lucky to reach the age of 16.

Whilst all that drama was going on around my bed, I’m watching the 1500-metre men’s race at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow on the TV in front of my hospital bed.

The moment I learned about the life-changing news of my condition was the same moment Sebastian Coe won the race. The time was 2.54pm and he also happened to be wearing the race number 254.

When my doctor delivered the news, he used a metaphor to explain my autoimmune condition. He described my white blood cells as an army, except instead of defending me, they were attacking my body. This is why there are soldiers alongside the hospital bed and all over my body. These toy soldiers are attacking me with viruses.

When I was diagnosed with my autoimmune condition in 1980, I was given a pair of calliper boots. I was paralysed from the neck down, and these boots were intended to support my weight and train my ankles. But I found them pointless, burdensome and painful.

For my exhibition at Wellcome Collection, I created these two-metre-high calliper boots, reimagining my old Frankenstein boots as shoes that I would choose to wear. They’re both left-footed; this is to demonstrate my neurological condition and the feeling that something isn’t quite right, but they have been painted in bright, cheerful patterns and colours.

They look a bit like Doc Martens, which, when I was a child, I used to fantasise about. I thought it would be wonderful to have a pair of 21-holed, brightly decorated, bad-boy boots.

I used to associate these orthopaedic devices with the negative depictions of disability, such as the charity boxes that were outside shops showing young children wearing callipers.

So, by painting this sculpture in cheerful bursts of pinks, greens, oranges and purples, I’ve reclaimed them as a positive depiction of how I feel about my disability, and I’ve transformed them as an expression of my identity.

The exhibition is about childhood, family, memory, but it’s also about how creativity works and where it comes from.

Jason Wilsher-Mills

In this video, artist Jason Wilsher-Mills takes us on a short tour of ‘Jason and the Adventure of 254’, his largest and most personal commission to date.

Jason talks about his influences and shares the story behind some of his key works, including the brightly coloured sculptures ‘Figure in a Bed’ and ‘Calliper Boots’.


MDM Props, London
Contact your own doctor, Wellcome Collection
Immunity and immunopathology, 1974, Wellcome Collection
Blood, 1928, Wellcome Collection