Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection was a new one for me. It was on a long list of places that I wanted to see in London, indeed had passed by en route to other places, but had never reached. In my research for this trip, I had found out that there was an exhibition about Tibet at the Wellcome Collection, which was just the cut of mine and my dad’s jib. As soon as we hit London, it was the first place we headed to, since it is just along the road from King’s Cross station.

My immediate impressions were favourable. Light and open reception area, a cafe and a bookshop beyond. It was pleasantly busy but not overly so. As we walked into the Tibet exhibition, we each picked up an exhibition booklet, a commendable publication for those of us with questionable short-term memories. Reading it back later, it was an excellent precis of the exhibition, providing a glossary as well as a list of the exhibition’s events. As I walked round, it served as a place to scribble notes and thoughts.

The exhibition focused on the Lukhang, a temple in Lhasa, Tibet, which served as a retreat for various Dalai Lamas from the late 17th century onwards. The displays diverged into considering Tantric Buddhism, matters of the body, medicine and anatomy before culminating in a digital recreation of murals to be seen in the private quarters of the Lukhang. A section that particularly interested me was about the Protector Chapel to be found in Buddhist monasteries, which gave an offering of light, ‘symbolising the illumination of the subconscious contents of the mind’. The panel quoted the psychiatrist Carl Jung – ‘enlightenment does not consist in imagining figures of light, but in making the darkness conscious’. I have been thinking on and off about this quote since Tuesday. Without getting all serious, I wonder whether we spend our whole lives trying to make the darkness conscious, fashioning some sort of light source to do so. Whether that is God, a collection of them, or another moral source or series of sources, that’s up to each of us.

There is a more detailed review on the Tincture of Museum blog, which I recommend. Rather spookily, I read this but an hour or two after I left the exhibition, when I was checking my e-mails sitting on the Embankment.

Following this, we went through into the ‘States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness’ exhibition, which I didn’t enjoy as much. I think I was a bit overloaded, with the dim lighting didn’t help with nor the slowly changing lights under some of the displays of letters and manuscripts.

What I liked more was the permanent exhibition about Obesity. There were far more stools and seats to sit down plus some very intriguing exhibits, including a set of building blocks which spelled out the word ‘dyslexia’ with the words ‘This shouldn’t be difficult’ written across them. Another was a rendering of a human face done using 3D mapping technology, which really appealed to me.

There was enough there to spend far longer than we had time for. I would have liked to have seen the library and the bookshop but lunch beckoned. My future wanderings to London will definitely have to include it, a task that will be all the easier for it being right near the train station.

Note: I should say that the Tibet exhibition finished on Sunday 28th February while the States of Mind exhibition continues until 16th October. It is free admission, more information at https://wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/exhibitions/all-exhibitions.

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