There are two things that I love more than any other in an exhibition: works that encourage the viewer to become part of the work and those that inspire a sense of awe and wonder. It’s rare to find a show that achieves both quite so spectacularly as this one by British sculptor Alice Anderson, a free exhibition hosted at The Wellcome Collection, whose claim to be a ‘destination for the incurably curious’ can rarely have been so appropriate.
The show aims to examine ‘how we create, record, and transform the present and how we imagine the future’ by mummifying a selection of over 100 everyday objects, provided by the artist and by members of the public, using copper thread and visitors to the gallery are encouraged to participate in this process themselves.
Stepping through the door you are immediately confronted with the main focus of this collaboration – a 1967 Ford Mustang which by the time I visited, three weeks into the run, was almost entirely encased and shimmering in the subtle overhead lighting (you can keep track of the work’s progress through time-lapse photographs on the artist’s blog). A utilitarian shelving unit around a corner houses a number of smaller objects also due to be encased by the public – I elected, perhaps predictably, to go for a 12″ record. Donning a set of black overalls provided by the gallery I set to work, bobbin in hand, and almost immediately regretted my choice – it’s rather difficult to wrap thread around something that’s perfectly round. However after a few slips and tangles, I hit a pleasing rhythm, the whir of the unspooling bobbin, the gloom and the repetitive motion creating an almost trance-like state. After almost an hour of constant weaving and wrapping, I reach the end of my thread and place the object down for the next volunteer to continue. Taking one last admiring glance at my handiwork, I hand back the overalls and continue to the next room of the exhibition.
Walking into the next room feels like entering the undisturbed tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh. Dozens of gleaming objects, each on its own plinth and lit from above, are dotted around the room leading to an impressive floating staircase. The room is titled ‘Recognisable Objects’ and once the initial wave of awe washes away, there’s much fun to be had in guessing what lies beneath the coils. Favourites included musical instruments, a globe, paint brushes and sets of coins – the ideas of wrapping up your coppers in copper wire appealed somehow. Other items are more directly linked to the idea of memory – a camera, photo albums, mobile phones.
Elsewhere ‘Abstract Objects’ features an array of geometric shapes, while ‘Assemblage and Accumulation’ creates new shapes by combining often incongruous items into surreal composites.
One of the most striking pieces falls somewhere between each of these categories. ‘Ropes’ takes up one half of the largest room in the exhibition, a tangled knot of hanging cables which the audience are free to explore, it brings to mind the tentacles of a b-movie space monster.
Another room is dedicated to items which have been distorted by the pressure placed on them by the copper thread. Wheelbarrows, door frames and a satellite dish are amongst the objects contorted into familiar yet different shapes, adding the dialogue on the reliability of our memories.
As you approach the end of the show, there’s one final treat in store – a piece of music has been faintly playing in the distance since traversing the ropes earlier in the gallery. Its source brings an amused smile, a punchline to the exhibition, but I’ll save it for you to discover yourself.
Memory Movement Memory Objects is open until 18th October at The Wellcome Collection. Entry is free.
Review by Paul Maps
Photography from The Wellcome Collection
alice-anderson.org / wellcomecollection.org/aliceanderson
Watch a teaser video here: