Death: A self-portrait, the current exhibition at the Wellcome Collection is both fascinating and gruesome, and I can’t decide if it is more one than the other. Displaying over 300 pieces from the The Richard Harris Collection, it examines how death and mortality have been depicted over the years and across different cultures. And though a macabre subject, this exhibition is not without its touches of humor and skull-expressions that delight me no end. Here are some of the works that caught my eye…
Illustrations from the Antikamania Calendar, 1890’s
Kiki Smith’s Vis Consili Expers Mole Ruit Sua (It falls into ruin by its own weight), 2000
Izumi Sukeyuki’s Curious Snake Exploring the Skull, 1900-10
With a variety of vanitas paintings and memento mori on display, this exhibition examines how art and popular culture have incorporated and conveyed ideas of mortality to beings like us, who prefer to believe that the ‘now’ is eternal. Things don’t change; we don’t age; and we are always in full control.
But what are the benefits of having these objects around us?
Are they more useful for the cause of art, philosophy or science?
And how does acknowledging ideas of mortality change our behaviour, if at all?
Here’s how Richard Harris first started his unique collection.
Our fascination with death is not all sinister when you consider how the earliest doctors first learnt about prolonging life by studying death and the deceased. Very similar to the way in which scientists first explored concepts of intelligence and memory, by studying the brains and skulls of deceased philosophers and thinkers.
But whether an exhibition on death is your cup of tea or not, it always helps to have a sense of life being much shorter than we ever think it will be.
There’s definitely a clock ticking away somewhere, so you best step on it!
For those of you who want more, here’s a skull story a day.