See The Severed Head Of Jeremy Bentham

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See The Severed Head Of Jeremy Bentham

In life, Jeremy Bentham was a man of many parts. In death, he comes in two parts.

The philosopher's preserved body is on permanent display within UCL's cloisters, as per his dying wish. It is topped by a wax head. His genuine noggin was withdrawn many years ago because, frankly, it looks like something from The Walking Dead.

Now, it's back on public display alongside other heads of note.

A replica of the head, once on show at Ripley's Believe it or Not

The exhibition What Does It Mean To Be Human? Curating Heads can be found in the Octagon Gallery at UCL's Bloomsbury campus (don't go up the steps at the main entrance, but use one of the side doors at ground level).

Bentham's head is the star attraction. The philosopher, atheist and prison reformer is something of an emblem of UCL, though he was not one of the founders as is often written. There's even a nearby pub named after him.

Here, his head is displayed in a gleaming glass bell jar. It looks a bit sci-fi, as though Daft Punk had been hired as curators. It's a strange clash, but one that saps any ghoulishness out of the object.

The decoration of decollation includes various other preserved heads, death masks and sculpted bonces. Flinders Petrie, the Egyptologist whose name is attached to UCL's antiquities museum, is there in spirit, but sadly not in spirits. His preserved head remains bottled up at the Hunterian Museum.

The slick exhibition, with digital displays, never feels macabre or weird. It packs in plenty of information on subjects as diverse as funerary practice, archaeology and Bentham's genome.

As such, the connecting theme 'what does the scientific interrogation of our dead bodies tell us about how we think about ourselves?' can feel a bit vague at times. This is more a cabinet of fascinating curiosities than a structured thesis. But it's certainly a head-turner.

What Does It Mean To Be Human? Curating Heads is on show in UCL's Octagon gallery until 28 February 2018. Entrance is free.

Last Updated 06 October 2017