Human Breast Milk And A Flooded McDonald's: Wellcome Collection Looks At What Being Human Means

Being Human, Wellcome Collection ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 58 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

Last Updated 06 September 2019

Human Breast Milk And A Flooded McDonald's: Wellcome Collection Looks At What Being Human Means Being Human, Wellcome Collection 4
Yinka Shonibare's refugee astronaut is carrying lots of items but where is he fleeing to and from? Photo: Wellcome Collection.

Want to know what human breast milk smells like? Head down to Wellcome Collection's Being Human gallery and get a whiff from a sculpture by Tasha Marks, which has been designed to smell like the real thing.

In case you're wondering, it's a sickly sweet scent that left me feeling a little nauseous. A nearby panel which smells of an extinct flower is far more pleasant. These are just two pieces within a free-to-visit gallery that's all about defining us as human beings, how that may change in the future, and the impact we have on the world around us.

This jukebox plays songs that relate to disease epidemics. Image: Wellcome Collection..

A tank of zebrafish reminds us that we're not that dissimilar, and share 70% of our DNA with them; but it's what we could do with genetics in the future where this display gets rather disturbing. Heather Dewey-Hagborg sequenced DNA from discarded cigarette butts, gum and hair and looked for genetic markers related to appearance. Using these markers she's constructed a rather life-like face and it's terrifying to know that every time we throw away chewing gum, we're leaving a trace of ourselves behind. It would make for an excellent anti-littering advert.  

A creepy face made from markers in discarded DNA. © Heather Sewey-Hagborg. Courtesy Wellcome Collection

This free exhibition take us further down the rabbit hole, with gene editing kits that you can order online. It's unlikely that they're effective, but imagine a future where anyone can alter their genetic code without access to a lab. In such an unregulated space, what will future humans look like, and would there be any way to stop a real world Dr. Frankenstein?

It's not all negative, as demonstrated with faces of health workers placed on the front of their hazmat suits. It's intimidating for Ebola sufferers to be treated by a masked and suited individual — placing a snap of their face on the front is a way of humanising the treatment process.

The rather innocuous sculpture that smells of human breast milk, by Tasha Marks. Image: Wellcome Collection

The most playful work here is a film by Danish trio Superflex, those guys who filled Tate Modern with swings. They recreated a full scale McDonald's and flooded it with water. It's bizarre and surprisingly meditative to watch packets of fries and Ronald McDonald knocked about with only the sound of gently lapping water to accompany it.   

Sure it may feel a bit esoteric, but seeing an icon of consumerism destroyed by a natural force feels very much like an omen for our near future, given we're struggling to cope with the climate emergency we find ourselves in.

Being Human is a new semi-permanent gallery at Wellcome Collection that's likely to be there for circa ten years. Entrance is free.