Major commissions unveiled for Wellcome Collection’s electrifying exhibition
22 February 2017
Wellcome Collection today unveils three new commissions inspired by the theme of electricity. The artists John Gerrard, Camille Henrot and Bill Morrison have each created the works as part of a major exhibition in London, 'Electricity: The spark of life', which traces the story of mankind’s quest to understand, unlock and master the power of electricity. The exhibition brings together over 100 objects from ancient spark-inducing amber and early electrostatic generators to radiographs, photographs, models and films.
John Gerrard has created a new live simulation inspired by 18th-century experiments on amputated legs of dead frogs. Camille Henrot’s installation takes the form of a zoetrope featuring creatures hand-crafted from electricity bills. Bill Morrison has created a work using mid-20th-century graphic films with an original score by composer Bill Frisell.
X. laevis (Spacelab) 2017 by Irish artist John Gerrard (b. 1974, Ireland) is a live simulation using new technology which responds to Luigi Galvani’s pioneering 18th-century experiments on the amputated legs of dead frogs. Inspired by Henry Wellcome’s collection of Galvani’s laboratory equipment and the book in which Galvani published his findings, Gerrard lets the absent frog take centre stage. The work represents an experiment that occurred more than 200 years after Galvani, during the second mission of the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992. The experiment established that vertebrates, in the form of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), could reproduce in zero gravity.
Camille Henrot’s (b.1978, France) new installation, January 2017 Horoscope 2017 (mixed media) takes the form of a zoetrope. As the mechanism rotates, a frog, a cardinal butterfly and other animals hand-crafted from electricity bills are animated, folding and unfolding. Meanwhile, life-sized hands each spark a lighter to ignite an electricity bill, alluding to a state of exhaustion arising from a never-ending excess of spending and consumption. The work is inspired by the holdings of Teylers Museum in Haarlem which has a rich collection of objects relating to early experiments with and applications of electricity.
In Electricity 2017 (16 mm film transferred to HD, 30 mins), Bill Morrison (b.1965, USA) has created an animated world which explores the production and distribution of electricity and its impact on our daily lives. This abstract film brings together footage from 130 technical, educational and commercial films from the mid-20th century. The films, held in the Electricity Council archive at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, were originally made to prepare the public for the ubiquitous presence of electricity in their households and daily lives. Morrison has worked with his frequent collaborator, the guitarist and composer Bill Frisell who has created an original score, to make a film which reflects on who we are as energy-dependent beings with interconnected lives across the planet.
Electricity: The spark of life runs 23 February – 25 June 2017 at Wellcome Collection and is accompanied by a full programme of events at the museum. It is curated by Lucy Shanahan and Ruth Garde, Wellcome Collection, with Consultant Curator and Exhibition Originator Paul Bonaventura. The exhibition has been produced in collaboration with Teylers Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands and the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, UK. Following its presentation at Wellcome Collection it will travel to both venues from summer 2017 onwards.
To coincide with the exhibition a new publication, A Practical Course in Personal Magnetism, has been published by Wellcome Collection and Profile Books, £7.99 Hardback and eBook.
Notes to Editors
Wellcome Collection is the free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The newly expanded venue offers visitors contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections, lively public events, the world-renowned library, a café, a shop, a restaurant and conference facilities as well as publications, tours, a book prize, international and digital projects. Wellcome Collection celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2017.
Wellcome Collection is part of Wellcome, a global charitable foundation that exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. Both politically and financially independent, we support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate.