Wednesday, December 31, 2008

War, Medicine & Austin Spare

War & Medicine - Wellcome Trust, Euston Road, London until 15th February - Admission Free

"As humankind has developed increasingly sophisticated weaponry with which to harm its enemies, medicine has had to adapt to cope with the volume and the changing nature of resulting casualties. Concentrating on the modern era, 'War and Medicine' will consider the constantly evolving relationship between warfare and medicine, beginning with the disasters of the Crimean War and continuing through to today's conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The exhibition highlights the personal experiences of surgeons, soldiers, civilians, nurses, writers and artists and will look at the impact of war on the ‘home front’ as well as on front-line medicine, considering the long-term implications for society of the traumas suffered and the lessons learned."

The wonderful hidden gem that is the Wellcome Trust collection in Central London has another of its winter exhibitions, this time focussing on the theme of War & Medicine. For those who are unfamiliar, I can say that the Wellcome is one of the world's greatest collections of information and artefacts connected with medicine's long and fascinating history. Henry Wellcome was a great Victorian collector who specified that a fixed percentage of profits from his pharmaceutical company be devoted to historical research. Hence the collection is very well endowed with artistic and magical masterpieces, all available to the general public free of charge. Wellcome special exhibits almost always have as large an artistic input as scientific. This includes participation by living artists often commissioned to produce work on the theme of that particular show. It's a strong subject and has some images not for the fainthearted - including Tonks rather amazing paintings of plastic surgery techniques, inspired by material from ancient Ayurvedic medicine and put to good use to reconstruct casualties from WWI. Also on display is an example of Austin Spare's work as WWI Artist, where he documented the innovative dressing stations that became part of the industrial / medical response to industrial warfare - one of the exhibits themes. Austin Spare is of course well know to occultists as a magical artist, but here you see him in an earlier incarnation. - unmissable [Mogg]