You can’t beat Wellcome Collection for variety. The Euston Road hall of wonders follows up its exhibition on Mexican votive paintings with a show about the brain. As ever, you can expect a mix of medical insight, artistic flare and discerning gore.
Subtitled “The Mind as Matter”, the exhibition is resolutely about the physical brain. Specifically, how people have studied, dissected, probed, prodded, sliced, scanned and modelled the organ throughout time. Paraphrasing JFK, the show asks not what our brains do for us, but what we have done to brains.
Exhibits range from ancient trepanned skulls and mummified Egyptian grey matter to cutting edge imagery of the brain in action. In one corner you’ll find sections of Einstein’s brain, plus half of Babbage’s. Round the partition, a video shows the effects of classical music on the organ. Victorian quackery gets a look-in, with a short section on the fad for phrenology, which attributed characteristics to a person based on cranial bumps. Several panels show the effects of a bullet to the brain. The exhibition also examines the practice of brain donation, with an astonishing video of the jelly-like organ as it is sliced and preserved for study.
It’s tempting to sign off with a cheap brain-pun…”let it get inside your head”, or “food for thought, especially if you’re a zombie”…but that would do a disservice to a thoughtful and at times poignant exhibition that anyone would find fascinating.
Brains: The Mind As Matter runs at Wellcome Collection 29 March-17 June. Entrance is free. Check out the accompanying events programme now, as spaces will quickly get booked. And to get you in the mood, here’s a 360 degree brain to play with.
Image of a ‘brainbow’ from the Lichtman Lab, Harvard University. Description here.