29.3.16

States of Mind at The Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection is one of my most favourite places to visit in London. Describing itself as 'the free destination for the incurably curious', its captivating exhibits explore the connections between medicine, life and art.


Last week I went to see 'States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness'. Through artworks, artefacts and films, visitors explore the nature of consciousness - something which is still not completely understood in the scientific world. We have an understanding of what it means to be conscious but the boundaries between this and the unconscious sometimes blur. It goes deeper than simply being aware or awake; it's the relationship between the mind and the body. Do they always communicate in the same ways? What are the differences between the things we show externally and what is in our own internal worlds? The exhibition examines medical procedures, historical experiments and contemporary artworks - while contemplating ideas around synaesthesia, animal magnetism, hypnotism and memory disorders.

One of the first things to capture my attention was a collection of abstract images from the early 1900's by Louis Darget. By pressing photographic plates against the foreheads of sitters, Darget believed he was capturing the 'radiation of thought' and that the images created were transmissions from their minds. I love the rawness of this concept and the way that he made the photographic process so physical. 

Louis Darget
Sleeping results in our perception being reduced and our conscious state changing. The act of dreaming is something that has always interested me, particularly as I have quite powerful dreams most nights and tend to remember them throughout the days that follow. I think it's possible for dreams to be interpreted and that your subconscious is reflected within them. Don't get me wrong, I can dream about the most random and ridiculous things that mean absolutely nothing, but I've definitely experienced inner feelings or unrealised concerns being expressed and coming to the surface.

The exhibition considers various sleep-related conditions and features a video of a man who suffers from REM Behaviour Disorder; a condition that leads sufferers to act out dreams while they are happening. It can be violent and dangerous for partners; the man featured tied himself to his bed for eight years to protect his wife during the night. Lucid dreams and sleep paralysis are also examined within the show, as well as the endlessly intriguing act of sleepwalking. While common, sleepwalking can be an extremely serious disorder. A series of articles on display cover the story of Jules Lowe, a man accused of killing his father. Although he admitted the act, he was cleared of murder - having claimed he was sleepwalking at the time. 

Henry Fuseli
The concepts of language and memory feature heavily in the show. Works include an artist creating constructed images that represent fake memories, an amnesia sufferer recalling memories through tree-like diagrams on paper and video footage of patients losing consciousness under general anaesthetics. Language is described as being an entry into culture; 'The Whisper Heard', an installation by Imogen Stidworthy, includes voice recordings of a three-year-old child who is learning to speak, contrasted simultaneously by that of a male stroke patient with aphasia - a condition that affects the brain and leads to sufferers making mistakes when using words and choosing sounds, as well as not understanding sentences they hear from others.

Imogen Stidworthy
'States of Mind' is a genuinely fascinating exhibition to visit. A variety of theories and interesting accompanying artefacts delve into things in life that we may not even think about because they're so normal and every-day to us. The Wellcome Collection has a habit of making you stop and look at subjects that can't always be explained or reasoned. I have seen several shows at the museum, including 'Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime' last year, which was so interesting that I wish it had been a permanent exhibition that I could revisit. The specific combination of scientific facts, artworks and philosophy has generated ideas and conversations that I might not have had otherwise. I really enjoy that the exhibits can be historical as well as contemporary; past ideas still have relevance and theories about the future have a place for consideration.

I would definitely encourage that you visit this exhibition and enjoy all that The Wellcome Collection has to offer. It's free, the permanent collections are great and even the shop is one of my favourites in a London museum, offering unique items and beautiful books. If you're visiting from Margate, I recommend getting the high speed train to St Pancras and simply walking a few minutes down the road to the museum. There's no need for the tube!
The show runs until 16th October 2016. 

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