I could easily have spent a whole day at the Wellcome Collection. The latest show, Miracles & Charms, which starts tomorrow and runs until 26th February 2012, is actually two exhibitions. The trailer video gives a taster, but is no match for the miracles and charms you will encounter:
The rooms are packed from floor to ceiling with saviours, protectors, mascots, amulets - and about as much good luck as you could ever wish for. One part is dedicated to Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings. There are over a hundred votive paintings, depicting around 300 years of answered prayers (see above, top). There’s also a contemporary votive wall (see above, right and below) from a church in Guanajuato, filled with everything from family photographs, drawings, love letters, and examination certificates to religious relics, wedding dresses, bouquets, and baby clothes. This part of the exhibition explores the culture and people behind the votive tradition.
The other part of the show features hundreds of lucky charms amassed by Bank of Scotland cashier and obsessive folklorist, Edward Lovett (1852-1933), who scoured the city by night, buying curious objects from London’s herbalists, mudlarks, barrowmen, and sailors. They eventually became part of Henry Wellcome’s collection, curated here by Felicity Powell, and displayed as a ‘river’ of artefacts in a horseshoe-shaped cabinet, alongside some of her own contemporary works.
Powell’s Charmed Life is “A please to the votives’ thank you” and considers the strange allure of small objects, invested with mysterious potency and meaning through superstition. Like this sovereign-sized disc of paper, on which is inscribed the Lord’s Prayer (though you’d need a magnifiying glass to read it), which was taken into battle by a World War I soldier.
Other curiosities include peony seeds (for sudden incapacity), sea horses (kept by the nursing wives of fishermen to facilitate the flow of milk to their breasts), mole feet (a cure for cramp), acorn amulets (a safeguard against lightning), coral (for “sympathy with blood”, or good health), and a parade of lucky shoes (symbolizing the path of life). If you’re looking for something similar, you may wish to visit ShopCurious.
Powell’s wax images, meticulously crafted onto mirror backs, are extraordinary and worth an exhibition in their own right. Watch her film, Sleight of Hand, based on the theme of concealment – or mediate to William Basinski’s ambient music, as nebulous concepts, like hope and anxiety, are given form...
I just hope this inspires you to go along. The clincher is that it’s free of charge – the only requirement is that you’re incurably curious…