A photo of the reading room in Wellcome Collection. A red carpet with wooden arm chairs surrounded by bookshelves underneath a feature light of red wires and warm yellow lampshades.
Wellcome's Reading Room. Image credit: Burnsc10

Working with Wellcome Collection: artists introduce their research

For our latest collaboration with Wellcome Collection, Unlimited artists are interrogating the themes of Work, Beauty, and the Medicine Man Gallery via items from the extensive collection.

A week before lockdown began back in March (which now seems like a lifetime ago!), Unlimited and Wellcome Collection ran a two-day research workshop for 20 Unlimited artists. The two days involved: meeting Wellcome Collection staff, learning about the library’s resources and the wider collection, and listening to staff discuss their specialisms through the lens of some of the Collection’s prominent items.

Six artists were then chosen by a panel of Wellcome Collection and Unlimited staff. The selected artists will be undertaking three weeks of research with Wellcome between now and the end of August. Each selected artist begins with a theme: Work, Beauty, or the Medicine Man gallery.

We asked some of the selected artists to share their feedback on the workshops and offer a taste of what’s in store for their projects…

Kristina Veasey

I thoroughly enjoyed the sharing of archive materials and hearing the stories that surrounded them. The collection is like a treasure chest full of historic gems, with each item providing a little snapshot of a time past. There’s so much material that a lot of it hasn’t really been given much attention. Exploring the archives is like hunting for clues. Even seemingly mundane items can be revelatory, depending on what your angle is, but there are some pretty weird and wonderful things in there, too. I think that’s what excites me most; the anticipation of finding something really powerful that opens doors in my mind, or even just something that is downright odd. I can’t wait to get stuck in!

Chisato Minamimura

When I attended the two-day workshop with Wellcome Collection, I learnt that the collection has a huge number of materials and information I never knew about and that the public would never usually get to see. The collection is like the labyrinth of knowledge and I am really looking forward to exploring it within my time researching to find some treasures!

The starting point for my research is a tattoo taken from the Medicine Man gallery.

I would like to use my time researching to find out about the history, culture, medical use and background of Irezumi (the Japanese word for tattoo). I will explore historical and contemporary representations of tattoos in both Western society and East Asian cultures.

Sophie Woolley

The Wellcome workshop with artists and researchers revealed hidden windows into old worlds and opened doorways onto surprising new understandings of why our lives are like they are today.

My research (entitled ‘And what do you do?’) asks the historical deaf and disabled people in the archive what they did for work. Is it even documented? How does the past documentation and work prospects of deaf/disabled people inform today’s culture, in particular television drama? As a writer and actor myself, I will research the roles of deaf women in film and TV.

Christopher Samuel

I was delighted to be invited by Unlimited and Wellcome Collection to take part in the two-day study/research workshop. I had been slightly disappointed that we were unable to visit Wellcome Collection for the workshop because of everything which is happening in the world at the moment, but the online workshop was fantastic. I was excited to hear about the treasure trove of materials Wellcome Collection holds. Immediately, I was inspired and felt somewhat like a child being given access to a sweetie shop.

I could immediately find a link between my practice and possible areas to explore in the collection relating to the theme of Work. I was very happy to be selected for the research bursary. My starting point will be to investigate the historical difference and similarities in the challenges faced by disabled people, from the context of my own experience. I will be examining how the material collected in Wellcome Collection does or does not reflect my own lived experience, how my experience is represented in the collection, and how this is mediated over time, i.e. through advocates such as Scope.

Nye Russell Thompson

To be able to engage with an academic and progressive organisation I’ve been following since my university days was thrilling and provoked many eye-opening discussions with curators and several wonderful artists. The objective from Wellcome to explore beauty inspired me to take stock of my own experiences. My research will look at societal standards of attractiveness through a lens of maxillofacial ‘differences,’ like jaw misalignment, and deconstruct the stigma around them perpetuated through objectifying dental documents. I’m very excited to dive back into academic research and see where it takes my contemporary theatre practice!