Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Human Existence: The Museum!!!

September 21, 2010 · 1 Comment

For my requisite museums blog, I ventured away from the canon of London museums such as the British Museum and the National and National Portrait Galleries and found an intriguingly fresh museum along Euston Road, The Wellcome Collection.  The museum bills itself as “a free destination for the incurably curious” and one can easily see why.  The museum is a mix of art, modern art and historical artefacts that focus on human well being; however, the negative, uglier sides of human health are equally represented, if not more than the positive.  The museum warns that perhaps this museum may not suit the squeamish very well.

The Wellcome Collection consisted of two main exhibits, one on the history of medicine, represented through the eyes of the arts, sciences and patients, while the other was simply titled, “Skin.”   The main goal of the Wellcome Collection is stated clearly:  “to consider human existence and what it means to be human.”  With this lens in place, the Wellcome Collection proved to be fascinating.  The history of medicine exhibit focused on illness, but more importantly the various ways in which humans make sense of disease within their respective societies.  The exhibit featured artwork, both classical and modern as well as various antiquated medical tools.  One of the most shocking elements in the museum was a line up of twelve to fifteen saws used in the eighteenth century for amputations.  The distance we have come as a human race in the field of medicine really does make what think about our existence and how we should define ourselves.

The “Skin” exhibit I felt really drove home the Wellcome Collection’s message as well.  The exhibit’s tagline:  “consider our existence within our constantly changing skin.”  Surely in our history as a species skin is an important aspect of what it means to be a human.  I quite like this exhibit because it was so basic in its line rhetoric and process of questioning, yet I felt it very relevant to the museum’s basic philosophy.  By walking through the exhibit I realized that there are countless ways to think critically about humanity, even if they are basic and somewhat obvious.  I feel that through analyzing the endless characteristics of human-ness present in our skin the museum emphasized this point.

The Wellcome Collection was small and understated, but posed to its viewing public a fascinating idea:  think about what it means to be a human.  In any religious or secular sense, I find this idea to be both mentally rigorous and rewarding.  Also, I generously give my remarks to the curator for constructing such a deeply philosophical idea in just two small understated exhibits.  I am very glad I found this museum, and subsequent visits to London may require a quick peek to see which exhibits they choose next that will further symbolize their discourse on humanity.

Categories: 2010 Luke · Uncategorized

1 response so far ↓

  •   bowmanc // Sep 21st 2010 at 18:48

    Luke – great post. Did you happen to notice whether the museum was funded by public money? I know you mentioned it was free, but perhaps a private sponsor made it so. Just interesting to think about as we’ve seen the effect public subsidy has on the museum content.

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