‘Undress Your Mind’ at the Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology

Now that most of the initial hysteria surrounding the cinema release of the hugely successful (and equally provocative) 50 Shades of Grey has calmed down, I felt it was the perfect time to give the Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology exhibition a visit. Because, frankly, I will jump at any chance to have open, healthy and positive conversations about sex and a trip to this exhibition documenting (and celebrating) the study of human sexuality is the perfect excuse.

With its enormous array of artefacts and objects exploring the links between medicine, life and art through time, the Wellcome Collection describes itself as the “free destination for the incurably curious”. An interest in the workings of the human body and its health is universal, even if the details of this are culturally and historically variable. The founder of the Wellcome Collection, Sir Henry Wellcome, in his passion for exploring the diversity of these attitudes and ideas, travelled the world and collected over one million objects.

The newly reopened Medicine Man exhibition displays a variety of these often pretty bizarre items, presenting objects ranging from gnarly looking surgical equipment (hardcore hacking saws!!), talismans and amulets with supposedly healing properties to false eyeballs and artificial limbs. Definitely worth checking out for a brief and beautiful introduction to the historical development of medicine worldwide.

Next door, the Medicine Now exhibition explores the body through scientific displays, artistic interpretations and everyday life experiences – especially in relation to medical subjects including genomes and obesity. A life-size see through cross section of a human female shows the veins, the muscles and the inner organs in situ – literally givingscientific anatomical descriptions of the body that we hear about and can sort of half picture some transparency. Nearby an artist likens the shape and variety in the classic ’23 pairs’ of human chromosomes to an ‘odd sock drawer’.

But the main event, (and the one with the largest queue – be warned they often introduce timed tickets, especially on particularly busy weekends) is the Institute of Sexology, investigating human sexuality and how research into this topic has shaped thoughts towards and ideas about sexual behaviour and identity. With displays including a collection of various antique sexual aids (many made of brass, steel or rubber), Moche ceramic pots in phallic shapes, extracts from the Kama Sutra, beautiful carved ivory statues in the form of copulating couples and (maybe one of my faves) a glorious sex chart where a group of ladies recorded their ‘completely subjective’ data about all of their sexual partners, it’s definitely worth taking time to look around!

The stories of some influential individuals who contributed to the beginnings of these conversations about sex were also explored. Marie Stopes (One of my newly discovered heroines) and her story in encouraging the provision of not only explicit practical advice to women when it came to sex, but also contraception was one of my favourites – particularly the black and white photograph from the 1920s of the World’s first horse drawn birth control caravan.

Anthropologists Malinowski and Mead both got mentions (which I was obviously pretty chuffed about) in their contributions in challenging notions of universal codes of sexuality and revealing the diversity of human kind – especially when it came to sex. Their field work in Papua New Guinea and Samoa respectively enabled them to do what Anthropologists do best in ‘making the strange familiar and the familiar strange’. Perhaps western ways of thinking about, talking about, and frankly, going about sex are more peculiar and maybe even more harmful than we once thought.

I also loved the displays about my home boii Kinsey and his intense research involving interviews with over 18,000 Americans about their sexual histories. This revealed, once again, the variation in people’s sexual behaviour, in their wants and desires as well as their actual Sexual activity. This led to the publication of the famous Kinsey scale in 1948 which challenged the confines of classifying people as EITHER homosexual or heterosexual, suggesting that human sexuality was actually more like a sliding scale and that these discrete boxes failed to acknowledge the diversity and unique-nature of individual human life.

kinsey

After immersing myself thoroughly in these exhibitions, I left with my mind buzzing and my assumptions well and truly challenged – just the way I like them. I had just enough time to grab a coffee and a snack at their tasty-as cafe and explore their extraordinary gift shop full of quirky, sciency things that I almost definitely do not need but weirdly really, really want before heading home.

Useful Information:

  • Price: FREEEEEEEEEEE
  • Opening Times: Closed on Mondays, Otherwise mostly open 10.00-18.00, except Thursdays when they close at 22.00
  • Institute of Sexology Exhibit – Open until the 20th September 2015.
  • Cup of coffee: £2.20 Americano (£2.80 Vanilla Latte)
  • Bring with you: A pencil and your incurably curious self.
  • Address: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.
  • Website: http://wellcomecollection.org
  • Blog: http://blog.wellcomecollection.org
  • Twitter: @ExploreWellcome
  • Sex By Numbers

ALSO as a bonus prize for you guys, check out some more museum-o posts.

Get lost in the British Library

Reading and stories have forever been a passion of mine, and so I am somewhat reluctant to admit that until recently I had never before paid a visit to the British Library. Home to over 170 million (!!!?!?!!?!?!!) items on over 625km of shelves, dating from 3,000 years ago to literally TODAY, as well as host to a timetable full of exhibitions and events, the B.L. is definitely one of my new favourite places to visit in the Capital. You’ll need to grab a reader’s pass to enter the reading rooms, but the rest of the library – including 3 cafes, a restaurant, a really really good gift shop and three exhibition galleries – is open to all. I was lucky enough to catch the penultimate day of the Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition and oh boiiii, it was great. 

2015/01/img_3572.jpg

After planning to spend “an hour and a half – tops” checking out this celebration of all things gothic, I ended up lingering for almost 3 hours devouring the exhibition and although it is no longer running, I just can’t resist telling you a little bit about it. It explored the pervasiveness of gothic imaginings for the past 250 years, looking at the gothic genre not only in literature, but in films, art, music, fashion and architecture. Featuring excerpts and material surrounding classics including The Castle of Otranto, Frankenstein, and Dracula as well as more contemporary, but still undeniably gothic works including The Bloody Chamber, Twilight, and films such as The Shining it was remarkable to see how pervasive and long-lasting is our human fascination with things unearthly, grotesque and fearsome. Included in the exhibition were spooky, unnerving objects, beautifully atmospheric paintings, engravings and sketches and scrawled correspondences and jotted notes from the likes of Byron, Shelley and Jack the Ripper himself – all working to enhance the feeling of fascination and repulsion so familiar when considering the macabre.

2015/01/img_3576.jpg2015/01/img_3573.jpg

2015/01/img_3575.jpg2015/01/img_3574.jpg

Unfortunately, this exhibition has ended. There are, however, many other undoubtably equally captivating exhibitions lined up, including one focusing on Arctic Exploration and another marking the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carter. You can read more about these here. Plus sitting in the cafe overlooked by shelf upon shelf of books making up the King’s Library (Good job, George III) is pretty inspiring. I urge you to go and check it out.

IMG_3577

Useful Information

  • Price: FREE ENTRY! (Some exhibitions, however, do charge for admission – generally £5 for students)
  • Opening Times: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 09.30 – 18.00
    Tuesday 09.30 – 20.00, Saturday 09.30 – 17.00, Sundays 11.00 – 17.00
  • Facilities: 3 Cafes, A Restaurant, beaut gift shops, lots of little places to sit and read and write, a number of ‘reading rooms’ (more about getting a reader’s pass here)
  • Cup of Coffee: £2.30 for a latte.
  • Bring with you: a notebook and a pencil/pen. (Also maybe some money for some potentially unnecessary but seriously desirable literary inspired gifts – see the online shop for a taster)
  • Address: The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London. NW1 2DB.
  • Website: http://www.bl.uk/
  • @britishlibrary

P.s. Have a look here at some more Museum-y posts and some more Historical ones. There you go.