Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection

Image by Matt Brown

Daniel Nelson

London’s latest permanent gallery exhibition, Being Human, is strong on questions but light on answers. 

The new space at the Wellcome Collection in Euston Road “explores what it means to be human in the 21st century”, with four sections – environmental breakdown, infection, minds & bodies, and genetics.

The 50 exhibits cover a lot of ground, from artworks to zebrafish, from a breastmilk sculpture to a jukebox with songs about epidemics, and from a Zimbabwe Friendship bench on which to discuss mental health to a film of a replica of a McDonald’s shop being gradually flooded (“The film encourages us to reflect on consumption, capitalism and the effects of climate breakdown”).

Oh, and look, here’s a faecal transplant kit, dyslexia glasses, a kit – sent through the post – that claims to offer everything needed for DNA editing. a life-size refugee astronaut (“invites visitors to create their own stories about who he figure might be, where they have come from and why they have had to leave Earth in such a hurry”). There’s beauty, too, as in an intricate kaleidoscopic paper sculpture of a microbial community.

So, yes, you can wander around through the gallery and find work that’s entertaining, fascinating, even perhaps provocative. That’s no mean feat, but it doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole.

Curator Clare Barlow tries to bring it all together: “Our understanding of what it means to be human is being transformed not only by new research but also by the voices of those with diverse identities and experience. Bringing together these objects reveals how we are all different, we are all valuable and we are all connected.” That sounds more like gallery speak than a real exploration of “trust, identity and health in a changing world”.

Best to go and treat it as an expanded cabinet of curiosities. It’s fun.

* Being Human is at the Wellcome Collection, free, 183 Euston Road, NW1. Info: 7611 2222/ www.wellcomecollection.org/ ingo@wellcomecollection.org




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