Wellcome Collection Brains: Mind as Matter
As one of the incurably curious, the Wellcome Collection is my favourite science museum in London. When I found out that the newest exhibition explored “what humans have done to brains in the name of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning and technological change” I popped down as soon as I had a spare moment. As usual the exhibition didn’t disappoint.
With over 150 artefacts including real brains, artworks, manuscripts, videos and photography, ‘Brains’ asks not what brains do to us, but what we have done to brains. The exhibition isolates the brain from the individual and presents it as a purely scientific object: something which can be measured, classified, modelled and mapped, sliced, freeze-dried and pickled.
Presented as a maze of four sections, the exhibition reflects this: ‘Measuring’ defines the relationship between the brain’s function and form, ‘Mapping’ explores anatomy, ‘Cutting’ delves into the gory history of surgical intervention and Victorian quackery, while ‘Giving’ deals with brain harvesting and research.
Alongside a wealth of scientific information, what really make this exhibition unique are the art pieces interwoven throughout.
Curator Marius Kwint selected works by contemporary artists, who responded to the form and physical matter of the brain in various ways. There are abstract offerings in Katharine Dowson’s glass laser render of a her own brain which from afar looks like a delicate puff of silk, Susan Aldworth’s watercolour series and stills from Andrew Carnie’s film ‘Atlas’. There are also some touching works exploring the brain’s physicality, such as photographer Corrine Day’s pictures of herself before brain surgery, and Ania Dabrowska’s portraits of brain donors alongside podcast monologues. Rather than being ghostly these recordings are gentle and reflective making them one of my favourite sections of the exhibition.
All in all ‘Brains: Mind as Matter’ is science communication at its best: complex medicine interwoven with art and beauty (and a little bit of gore). It’s on until the 17th of June and it’s free, so I suggest you take your brain down for a little look.