The Origins of the Exhibition

The Wellcome Collection's winter 2013/14 exhibition is entitled Foreign Bodies, Common Ground. The project offers a unique examination of global health through paintings, photographs, sculptures, film and performance.  

The Wellcome Trust commissioned a group of artists to take up residencies at a number of medical research facilities. Responding to the research projects taking place at these research facilities, they looked specifically at how ideas are communicated, how data is obtained and used, and how communicable diseases are spread. 

Artists such as B-Floor Theatre, Lêna Bùi, Elson Kambalu and Katie Paterson have brought a fresh insight into the vital work of some ground-breaking research projects. Many of their works are humorous, whilst others are both deeply profound and challenging, always reflecting the relationship between scientific projects and the local communities they affect. 

The residencies lasted for up to six months and took place during 2012 and 2013. Funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of its Major Overseas Programmes[1], these interesting and unique opportunities took place in countries as far a field as Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. 

A Word from the Curator

The exhibition is curated by Danielle Olsen and Lucy Shanahan. Speaking recently Danielle Olsen said: ″Foreign Bodies, Common Ground is the result of six very different journeys united by a generous and collaborative exchange of ideas. Placing artists within scientific research institutions is one small way of bridging discourses and practices, creating opportunities for self-reflection. The exhibition asks questions about what we understand by global health and the wonderfully rich body of artworks on display offers moving and often unexpected insights into scientific processes and the community relationships upon which those processes depend.”

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Highlights of the Exhibition

Zoonosis explored by Lêna Bùi

Lêna Bùi graduated from Wesleyan University, USA, in 2007, and now works in Ho Chi Minh City. This artist is internationally recognised with works appearing in shows in the USA, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and France. Her residency took place at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City. 

The works featured in Foreign Bodies, Common Ground take a close look at zoonosis, the transmission of diseases from animals to humans. Bùi looked at workers in rural communities, especially feather harvesters, abattoir and market workers, who are at high risk from animal diseases. In her work Where birds dance their last (2012)  she makes connections between the consumption of animals and how they are bred, slaughtered and packaged. During the avian flu outbreak in 2005, 1.2 million poultry were destroyed and more than half the feather-harvesters lost their livelihood.

Feather Harvesters at Work

Lena Bui, Where birds dance their last, 2012
Credit: Credit:(c) Lena Bui

Katie Paterson's Fossil Necklace

Scottish artist Katie Paterson, who graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 2007, works in Berlin. She has exhibited her work at Tate Britain in London, the Kunsthalle in Vienna and many other international venues. Fossil Necklace outlines the evolution of life on earth. It comprises 170 beads carved from individual fossils and reflects earth's biological history, from early single cell organisms to humans appearing later in the chain.   

Fossil Necklace - Billions of Years of Mankind's Evolution Represented in a Necklace

Katie Paterson, Fossil Necklace, 2013
Credit: Credit:Photo © MJC, Courtesy of the artist

Elson Kambalu Presents Murals and Graffiti by the Women and Children of Chikhwawa

Self-taught Elson Kambalu works in Lilongwe, Malawi. Elson is renowned for his paintings, photography and sculptures which have been shown in the USA, Germany, Norway and South Africa. He owns and runs two art galleries and an arts/cultural magazine. 

Elson's residency took place at the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme. Elson interviewed project participants ranging from musicians and traditional herbalists to pharmacologists, community workers and health economists to gain a better understanding of research and medicine in Malawi and the many cultural differences that influence the research teams and the communities they work with. 

The exhibition includes murals, graffiti and soil paintings created by women and children in Chikhwawa who used this traditional decorative form to express their concerns over access to health care and health in general.  

Graffiti by the Children of Mawila Primary School, Chikhwawa

Children's graffiti, 2012
Credit: Credit:Courtesy of Elson Kambalu and the children of Mawila Primary School, Chikhwawa
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Soil Paintings

Soil Painting, Chikhwawa, 2012
Credit: Credit:Courtesy Elson Kambalu

B-Floor Theatre - Survival Games

Thailand’s leading theatre company, B-Floor Theatre, undertook their residency at the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme, where immunologists are engaged in malaria research. The project is particularly complex as the region they are working in, the Thai-Myanmar border, has nine languages in common use and struggles with the world’s highest rate of melioidosis, a bacterial infection picked up through the soil by rice farmers. 

Their work highlights social and political issues through new and exciting performances involving movement and multimedia elements with little or no script. Such sensory performances cut through barriers of culture and language and they have enjoyed international success around the world. 

Survival Games, a collaboration with shadow theatre company Wandering Moon, takes a humorous look at an extremely serious subject – the relentless battle between humans and constantly-mutating diseases.  

Survival Games - B-Floor Theatre

B-Floor Theatre, Survival Games, 2013,
Credit: Video Credit:© B-Floor Theatre
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Visit the Exhibition

Foreign Bodies, Common Ground will be on show until 9th February 2014. The exhibition is accompanied by a varied programme of interesting and exciting activities. Further details can be obtained from the Wellcome Collection.

 If you'd like to see other exhibitions in London take a look at these;

Henry Wellcome's Legacy

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Preview Foreign Bodies Common Ground

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