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A very Wellcome collection

A very Wellcome collection

Not only is the Wellcome Collection a (quite literally) welcome respite from the mind-bending traffic and noise of the Euston Road, but its current free exhibition, ‘An Idiosyncratic A-Z of the Human Condition’, also provides fodder for the brain.

It begins with three maps: one of the world, one of the UK and one of London. Visitors are encouraged to take a sticker and mark where they come from. This sets the tone for the interactive nature of the exhibition to come.


One side of the room is a work in progress, perhaps meant to reflect the human condition – our differing but universal fears and desires. It relates to an A to Z of letters that start a word or phrase supposedly pertaining to something of human nature, human struggle or human achievement. They include ‘Acts of Faith’ for A, ‘Chemical Life Support’ for C, ‘Grief’ for G or, my personal favourite, ‘Keeping up appearances’ for K. Some are more obvious – ‘Music’ for M or ‘Philosophy’ for P – and some less so, like ‘Skin Art’ for S and ‘X-rated’ for X.

The other side is, more simply, a display of artefacts and paintings that relate to each of those same words or phrases. While the more static side is interesting – I learn, for example, about zoonoses (Z) – it is the side where involvement is intended that interests me more. There’s a poignant mixture of things to do here, such as marking out your height on the wall (Birthdays; B), or writing one of your fears (F) on a scrap of paper and then, ceremoniously, tossing it into a nearby bin.


I resist the urge to sneak a peak at the screwed up paper and play voyeur to others’ fears, instead drawn in by requests that visitors take a ‘selfie’ and share on Twitter and Instagram with a specific hashtag. A cynical and savvy marketing ploy? Maybe. But really it seems there is a clearer message at play in this curious collection of Henry Wellcome’s weird and wonderful objects: this is our human world, both its past and its present; we must make use of contemporary communications to flaunt all our uniqueness and similarities.

After all, by taking part in, and adding to, the collection, contributing to the gathering of polaroids, scribblings and candles lit for lost loved ones, we ensure that, just like life, the exhibition is never the same yesterday as it is today. In fact, between now and the exhibition’s end on 12 October, one side of it will be in a continual process of evolution while the other remains exactly the same as it did on the day of its opening.

A simple yet profound way of reflecting humanity and its experience, whether or not you feel satisfied by its content.