An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition

The Wellcome Collection has set itself what sounds to be a rather daunting task – mapping an ‘A to Z of the human condition’.

S for SKIN ART: Tattoos on human skin. French, 1850 – 1920

Source: © Science Museum/Wellcome Library

S for SKIN ART: Tattoos on human skin. French, 1850 – 1920

For a new show opening today, the museum looks to present what it terms ‘a unique and idiosyncratic A to Z of the human condition’, showing objects it feels go some way to describing our existence throughout the ages.

Inuit Snow Goggles, 1801 - 1900

Source: © Science Museum/Wellcome Images

Inuit Snow Goggles, 1801 – 1900

The pieces on show range from the useful – such as glass eyes and Inuit snow goggles – to the surreal (a Nicobar Island figure) – to the dystopian, in Hieronymus Bosch’s terrifying image, The Garden of Earthly Delights: Allegory of Luxury.

Photograph of glass eyes made by W Halford of London, 1890

Source: © Wellcome Library

Photograph of glass eyes made by W Halford of London, 1890

Photography, medical artefacts, sculptures, paintings, manuscripts, audio-visual and ethnographic material will all be on show.

Nicobar Island Figure, 1880 - 1925

Source: © Science Museum/Wellcome Images

Nicobar Island Figure, 1880 – 1925

The Wellcome Collection says, ‘Each exhibit in the show tells a personal story that contributes to a general history of how we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world; how we have used and understood our bodies, in both sickness and health.

‘It is hoped these traces of other lives will inspire visitors to share some of their own.’

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Allegory of Luxury (central panel of triptych) by Hieronymus Bosch, 1500

Source: © Wellcome Library

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Allegory of Luxury (central panel of triptych) by Hieronymus Bosch, 1500

The show is split into section for each letter. Each display invites visitors to take part in a spin-off activity, including sharing a photo on Instagram and Twitter of a Cityscape, which will be displayed next to an illustrated view of the medieval urban landscape from a manuscript of the Nuremberg Chronicle – a book published in 1493 that follows the story of human history related in the Bible.

The exhibition’s curator Danielle Olsen says, ‘Rather than attempt to define the human condition, this A-Z gives an imperfect and impressionistic presentation.

X for X-RATED: Porcelain fruit showing sexual foreplay. Acquired before 1936

Source: © Science Museum/Wellcome Images

X for X-RATED: Porcelain fruit showing sexual foreplay. Acquired before 1936

‘Although the exhibition doesn’t reveal the meaning of life, it grapples with many of its questions and offers glimpses of how others have done so before.’

An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition is at Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE from 24 June – 12 October

B for BIRTHDAYS: Horoscope of Iskandar-Sultan ibn Umar-Shaykh, 1411

Source: © Wellcome Library

B for BIRTHDAYS: Horoscope of Iskandar-Sultan ibn Umar-Shaykh, 1411

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