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An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition

24 June 2014


From Acts of Faith to Zoonoses, Wellcome Collection presents a unique and idiosyncratic A to Z of the human condition, mediated through strange and wonderful objects drawn from Henry Wellcome's extraordinary collection and the holdings of the museum.

Visitors will find objects that tell us about the fleeting and ungraspable stuff of life, from a multitude of perspectives and eras. From glass eyes and Inuit snow goggles (R for Resourcefulness) to an exquisite 14th century Persian horoscope (B for Birthdays), tattooed human skin and a Maori face cast (S for Skin Art) to Scott's Antarctic medicine chest (J for Journeys) and phrenological heads (O for Obsolete Knowledge), the exhibition offers an impressionistic and suggestive alphabet of human experience.

Ranging across medical artefacts, sculptures, paintings, photography, manuscripts, audio-visual and ethnographic material, each exhibit in the show tells a personal story that contributes to a general history of how we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world how we have used and understood our bodies, in both sickness and health. It is hoped these traces of other lives will inspire visitors to share some of their own.

In the gallery each letter comes with an suggestive invitation and provocation to activity, both within and outside the exhibition. We'll ask visitors to share their cityscapes via instagram and twitter and display them opposite a manuscript of the Nuremberg Chronicle, opened at an illustrated view of the medieval urban landscape (U for Urban Living). We'll prompt and post acts of kindness, across from the dystopian Eden of The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted after Bosch (D for Delight). Our illustrator will sketch out visitors' accidents and near misses in the spirit of displayed ex-voto paintings to the saints (A for Acts of Faith) and fears can be left behind in the gallery next to our 17th century etching of De Monstris and a Nicobar Island figure used to ward off evil spirits (F for Fears).

There will be live busking activities every day between 11.30- 12.00 and 14.30- 15.00 (and 18.30- 19.00 on Thursdays) on topics such as neuroscience and phantom limb syndrome, and lessons in forgotten skills such as foot binding, trephination and phrenology.

Danielle Olsen, curator, says: "Rather than attempt to define the human condition, this A-Z gives an imperfect and impressionistic presentation. As meaning-seeking and empathetic creatures, I hope visitors will enjoy the opportunities it offers to pause for thought, to wonder and to share experiences. Although the exhibition doesn't reveal the meaning of life, it grapples with many of its questions and offers glimpses of how others have done so before."

The exhibition runs ahead of a £ 17.5million redevelopment of Wellcome Collection which will see new spaces and galleries opening from November 2014.

'An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition' is at Wellcome Collection from 24 June to until 12 October 2014 @explorewellcome #humancondition

Hyperlinked images can be freely downloaded at hi-res and are available for any use under creative commons CC BY 4.0 (attribution only). A full run of images representing each letter and theme is available.

Media contact

Tim Morley
Senior Media Officer
T 020 7611 8612
E t.morley@wellcome.ac.uk


Notes for editors

Wellcome Collection is the free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, the venue explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises gallery spaces, a public events programme, the Wellcome Library, café , bookshop, conference facilities and a members' club. Wellcome Collection is growing. A £ 17.5million development will deliver new galleries and spaces in autumn 2014. Find out more.

Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.