During the Summer, with the Landscape Surgery term complete, those few still residing in Central London met up for ‘Days of Culture’ and a catch up. Landscape Surgery’s ‘Days of Culture’ are an opportunity to visit some of the fantastic museum and gallery spaces London offers in abundance. In May, LS visited the Victoria and Albert Museum for a guided viewing of the ‘Recording Britain‘ Exhibition by curator Gill Saunders.
Over summer a smaller cohort of surgeons attended the ‘Vanity of Small Differences’ exhibit, by Grayson Perry at Victoria Miro gallery and ‘Superhuman’ at the Wellcome Collection. Both exhibitions spoke to the theme of self-improvement and its objects, methods and performances.
The Vanity of Small differences exhibited the tapestries produced by Grayson Perry for the Channel Four documentary ‘In best possible taste’. The documentary explored the material cultures of the ‘taste tribes of Britain’. Perry collected stories about family background, class journeys we take and the ways we shape ourselves, and our material cultures along the way. Six tapestries documented these findings around ‘class mobility’ through the character of ‘Tim Rakewell’. It was comforting, and discomforting in equal measure to be confronted by the objects and things we emotionally invest in our everyday lives. Objects we recognise, value and use to create a sense of place and belonging. Personally, I cringed as I recognised my prized ‘penguin classic’ mug illustrated in one tapestry, I smiled as I clocked the ‘miners lamp’ and familiar ornaments from my family home in another.
From the ordinary, to the spectacular – ‘Superhuman’ at Wellcome Collection explores the theme of ‘human enhancement’ with focus on the body, science and sport. One section focused on the role of prosthetic objects, displaying the ingenious ways that humans have compensated for loss of function throughout history – from false teeth and artificial legs, to knitted breasts. Another focused on sport, performance and chemical enhancements. Athlete’s bodies, which become in and out of place dependent their use of ‘enhancement’ and the historical, social and cultural relations that define the legality and ethics of the ‘enhancement’.
Tom Hicks, winner of 1904 Olympic Marathon. Hicks collapsed, delaying the medal ceremony, he had consumed large doses of strychnine in brandy throughout the race. In 1904 performance enhancing drugs were accepted practice at the time, but ‘intensive training’ was limited to just four weeks before the race (Wellcome Collection, 2012).
Both exhibitions highlighted the objects, substances, and things that make space matter, and affect our experience of place, right down to the body. Both highlighted the social conflicts, hierarchies and power relations through which choices in these matters come to matter.
Though the Grayson Perry exhibition is now closed; ‘Superhuman’ is open until October 16.