Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Dirty, Filthy Fun

Get your mind out of the gutter, you lot! We had a fantabulous day in London yesterday that started at the Wellcome Museum. It was an exhibit on DIRT. That’s right. DIRT. According to their website:
Bringing together around 200 artefacts spanning visual art, documentary photography, cultural ephemera, scientific artefacts, film and literature, the exhibition uncovers a rich history of disgust and delight in the grimy truths and dirty secrets of our past, and points to the uncertain future of filth, which poses a significant risk to our health but is also vital to our existence.
Following anthropologist Mary Douglas's observation that dirt is 'matter out of place', the exhibition introduces six very different places as a starting point for exploring attitudes towards dirt and cleanliness: a home in 17th-century Delft in Holland, a street in Victorian London, a hospital in Glasgow in the 1860s, a museum in Dresden in the early 20th century, a community in present day New Delhi and a New York landfill site in 2030.
Highlights include paintings by Pieter de Hooch, the earliest sketches of bacteria, John Snow's 'ghost map' of cholera, beautifully crafted delftware, Joseph Lister's scientific paraphernalia and a wide range of contemporary art, from Igor Eskinja's dust carpet, Susan Collis's bejewelled broom and James Croak's dirt window, to video pieces by Bruce Nauman and Mierle Ukeles and a specially commissioned work by Serena Korda.
It was very exciting as the entrance said Warning contains human remains and I thought Woohoo! We’re in for a good time now. And we were. The exhibit was very interesting and there were all sorts of gross but cool stuff to look at. There were German propaganda posters that said:
Frightening stuff But the best bit for me was seeing a genuine single lens microscope that belonged to one of my top favourite scientists Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek (yes I have a list of scientists I adore.)  Read more about him here if you don’t know who I mean. He was awesome and was the first to really look at things like protozoa, bacteria, cells, sperm and see tiny things that the naked eye could not see.  

The regular Wellcome Museum collection which was collected by eccentric genius (are they any other kind?) Henry Wellcome was full of thousands of weird and wonderful things (though he collected millions in his life.) Their website says:

  Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936): Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector

Henry Wellcome had an early interest in medicine and marketing. The first product he advertised was 'invisible ink' (just lemon juice, in fact). In 1880, he joined his college friend Silas Burroughs in setting up a pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. They were one of the first to introduce medicine in tablet form under the 1884 trademark 'Tabloid'; previously medicines had been sold as powders or liquids.
Anyway—there were all sorts of weird stuff from rows of amputation saws to a variety of prosthetic limbs—some dating back to the 1800s to shrunken heads to fertility dolls from other cultures to Napoleon’s silver handled toothbrush to Charles Darwin’s carved walking canes to Admiral Nelson’s cut throat razor to Florence Nightingale’s moccasins. Some weird and wonderful stuff. All free.

Then it was off to some health food shops to buy some nice things that we can’t get locally like pomegranate molasses and sweet potato and buckwheat noodles and sriracha—my new favourite Thai hot sauce. How I love the sweet/sour/garlic-y chilli flavoured goodness in that bottle.

Next off to the Illustration Cupboard (which is an awesome art gallery but really is like a cupboard) to see an exhibit of Shaun Tan’s work. He’s here visiting from Down Under to promote his new book and we were seeing him later that night! Double cool with knobs on! I highly recommend his books. Check out his website he’s also just won an Oscar for Best Short Animated Film for The Lost Thing, which was adapted from the book of the same title. Way to go, Shaun!

Then off to Gosh! Comics for a bit of geek time then to our favourite restaurant to eat their amazing food. I adore Tibits—their healthy buffet of whole foods makes me weep with joy. And they now have gluten free bread rolls which make me want to do a little dance.

Then off to Waterstones to hear one of favourite illustrators Shaun Tan be interviewed. And we got tickets half price due to my Waterstone’s card. Woohoo! Bonus. The interview was so interesting—he showed slides of his illustrations and talked about how he did his art, how he was inspired and his childhood. Then we queued for him to sign our book and a postcard we picked up at the Illustration Cupboard.

Then a very late train home, enjoying our new autographed illustrated version of the Wizard of Oz by Robert Ingpen that we picked up at the Illustration cupboard. It contains the most original illustration of the progression from “meat” to tin of Nick Chopper a.k.a. the Tin Woodman. I have never seen anyone ever attempt to show him as each part is gradually replaced by tin. It is truly a fantastic, beautifully rendered illustration.

What a filthy fun filled day!


  1. Geek Heaven.

    I'm a tad jealous!

  2. Glad you had such an enjoyable time! If I ever get to GB, you will have to show me around!