Foreign Bodies, Common Ground unites art from residencies in six countries at Wellcome

By Culture24 Reporter | 12 November 2013

Exhibition preview: Foreign Bodies, Common Ground, Wellcome Collection, London, November 14 2013 – February 9 2014


Since the start of 2012, in a series of six-month residencies, the Wellcome has sent individual artists around the world, asking them to return with their responses to the latest scientific research being carried out.

Their bases ranged from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, which tackles malaria and childhood infections, to the Tropical Medicine Research Programme in Thailand and Laos, where experts are attempting to resolve some of Asia’s most pressing health concerns.

South Africa, Vietnam, Malawi and Britain were also visited, with the common theme being the expertise and funding the Wellcome provides in each location.

“It is the result of six very different journeys, united by a generous and collaborative exchange of ideas,” says curator Danielle Olsen, whose display takes in church-bound boys carrying condoms, yogis, cross-dressers, working mothers painted in mud and even a performance, Survival Games, by a vanguard Thai physical theatre company who use shadow puppetry to explore soil rice contamination and multilingualism.

“Placing artists within scientific research institutions is one small way of bridging discourses and practices, creating opportunities for self-reflection.

“It asks questions about what we understand by global health.”

The artworks, which Olsen calls “wonderfully rich” and full of “moving and often unexpected insights”, sound complex and exquisite.

Katie Paterson, the artist known for sending things into orbit and working with materials as old as time, is back with her Fossil Necklace, a formation of 170 beads each carved from a fossil representing a particular point in the evolution of life. Paterson travelled the least far – she worked at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge – but her gaze remains fixed on distant galaxies.

Animals are stricken in Lêna Bùi’s drawings, photos, videos and installations on zoonosis, the transfer of disease from animals to humans. Resident in Vietnam, she went to “high risk” rural communities involved in the breeding, packaging and killing of animals, from abbatoir workers to feather harvesters, while Elson Kambalu, in Malawi, asked locals to create art and discuss their cultural fears, interviewing clinicians, herbalists, chiefs, pharmacologists and musicians.

And an entire studio operates within the exhibition, accompanied by portraits from Kilifi. This is the design of Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki, a pair of artists whose Pata Picha Photo Studio is a mobile set with props connected to the belief systems and cultural values they encountered. Human hopes and fears about scientific exploration are played out in the same space these Kenyans expressed them in.

  • Open 10am-6pm (10pm Thursday except January 2, 11am-6pm Sunday, closed December 23 - January 1). Admission free. Follow the Collection on Twitter @ExploreWellcome‎. See Culture24 for our review later this week.

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A photo of a woman dancing in a darkened room with her silhouette looming on the wall
B-Floor Theatre, Survival Games (2013)© B-Floor Theatre
A photo of an African girl in a village holding up a sign which reads I practise yoga
Nothando Sabela, Yoga with NO face (2012)© Courtesy Nothando Sabela
A photo of two people in white lab coats making scientific presentations on a dance floor
B-Floor Theatre, Survival Games (2013)© B-Floor Theatre
A photo of a group of young dancers holding their hands up on a darkened dancefloor
B-Floor Theatre, Survival Games (2013)© B-Floor Theatre
A photo of a kaleidoscopically-lit darkened dancefloor with figures visible on it
B-Floor Theatre, Survival Games (2013)© B-Floor Theatre
A photo of African children working on a black canvas with paintbrushes on a floor
Children's graffiti (2012)© Courtesy Elson Kambalu / the children of Mawila Primary School, Chikhwawa
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