Review: States Of Mind Explores The Outer Reaches Of Consciousness

Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road ★★★★☆

By M@ Last edited 100 months ago

Last Updated 04 February 2016

Review: States Of Mind Explores The Outer Reaches Of Consciousness Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road 4

"The worst part about it is screaming and screaming and asking for help, but knowing no noise is coming out."

It's the most traumatic testimony we've ever heard from a stone pillar. This audio-visual exploration of sleep paralysis — built into a column — is one of several peculiar experiences at Wellcome Collection's new show. States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness tours the curious and perilous foothills of awareness, and occasionally plays with the viewer's own sense of reality.

Dreams, nightmares, memory loss, anaesthetics, synaesthesia, sleep paralysis, vegetative states, hypnotism... the list of ways to perturb consciousness is long, even without the aid of recreational drugs. The show offers glimpses of each, drawing with equal weight on medical research and contemporary art.

There's plenty to explore. The main exhibition space conceals a couple of curtained-off rooms; stepping through provides a metaphor of entering an altered state. One disorienting room projects and contrasts readings of Jules Verne by a young child and a man recovering from a stroke. Another curtained off cubicle, easily missed, plays thought-provoking videos showing people in vegetative states.

For all the flashy visuals and conceptual art, we were most taken with the simple black pen drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Sketching with the aid of a microscope, the neuroscientist efficiently recorded the cellular structures of the nervous system. Here, for example, is his sketch of the plaques associated with Alzheimer's Disease.

The section on synaesthesia — a condition which blends the senses — works particularly well: a flashing interactive shows you how to 'become' a synaesthete, while a piece of art by Jean Holabird presents the letters of the alphabet in the colours of a synaesthete's perception (see image).

The exhibition is billed as a sequel to last year's stiflingly popular Veronica Ann Janssens exhibition, which invited visitors to ponder their consciousness by immersion in coloured mists. This follow-on is an altogether more cerebral affair, yet one that maintains a playful and experiential strand. The show will exist in its own occasional altered state, with changing exhibits and an in-exhibition events programme.

States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness is at Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, from 4 February until 16 October 2016. Entrance is free. While there, be sure to check out the Tibet's Secret Temple exhibition, also free, and on till 28 February.