In my role as Artistic Director of Medicine Unboxed I put together an exhibition for MU2016 at the Parabola Arts Centre. The images are either sourced from Wellcome Images or from my own work.
Images courtesy of Wellcome Images.
We live in an age where our consumption of images has grown exponentially, but paradoxically the modes and functions of these images mean that our engagement is often necessarily superficial. Most imagery today tends to serve illustrative or decorative needs, requiring a rapid digestion of surface level information. But do some images do more? Can an image alone, free of context, rupture this skin and offer moments of true Wonder?
Wonder itself has become historicised, often used as a catch all term to describe a wide variety of 19th Century pursuits and beliefs. In its simplest definition it is the feeling of awe at the discovery of something new, which was the driving life blood of Modernisms belief in upward progress across all disciplines and in all walks of life. Wonder perhaps reached a peak two hundred years ago, with Europe mapping new ground and every single mode of life seeming to exist on a threshold of unimaginable scale in terms of the heights that could be reached and the depths of the falls. In the arts Romanticism and the Sublime are the key movement and philosophical foundations for Wonder. It is Friedrichs Wanderer, Wordsworths poetry, Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa and the paintings of Turner, humans sat in the middle of the spinning vortex of storms, existence and nature. It is the spring Ode’s of Keats, musing on the power of art and nature to provide transcendental experiences or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the great Gothic masterpiece showing the hope and fear of science stepping into the space of God.
So two hundred years later can images still elicit this? The aim of this exhibition was to mine the Wellcome Image library to see if a presentation of historical, artistic and especially biomedical images might be able to come together to form a cartography, a mapping of a way of seeing which might open up rhythms and rhymes between images, in the hope that in those dialogues and spaces are moments of Wonder.
So each square can be read as a set of coordinates, an image without context but which looks to speak to its neighbour. We might mistake a screaming mouth for an island, a mathematical pattern for a stained glass screen saver or a Kitche Ikea lampshade. Lungs might mutate into trees or an entire forest could collapse back into the bodies interior landscape. Is the rhyme of multiple circles, a theatre, an eye or a cell, a circular nothingness or an opening to meaning? Might squares hint of maps and rooms, systems of ordering and counting chaos, some kind of ideological structure?Might the inside of a hand reveal narratives of love, or the microscopic mechanics of nature reveal unimaginably beautiful topographies of worlds beneath the skin.
The key hopes are for abjection and connection. Abjection is defined as the state of being cast off, it is the sensation, as with Wonder, of seeing something new, but the unknown leaving a kind of nausea and threat. It is the space of the uncanny, of the homely and familiar invaded by the strange. Can any of these images take us into this space? Or might we hope of connection, of images speaking both too each other and to the viewer, of the human voice being at the centre of vision, of us, the readers as the agents of meaning. Images will be mere illustration and decoration if thats all we demand of them. If we enter them, immersive ourselves in the space of each image and inhabit its world then Wonder is everywhere, just waiting to be found.