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© Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection: Alice Anderson

25 July 2015 Imogen Greenberg

The Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition is a departure from their usual approach, with a whole exhibit dedicated to a contemporary artist. Alice Anderson presents her sculptures made from copper thread, exploring our relationship to objects and memory. London Calling headed down there, unsure quite what to expect.

This is new territory for the Wellcome Collection. Their exhibition space is shrouded in darkness, and filled with the strange, half-recognisable forms of Alice Anderson’s art, glowing luminous in the darkness. Alice Anderson uses copper wire to cover objects, in a strange sort of ‘mummification’ process, which suspends them in time like artefacts.

What does this have to do with the Wellcome, you might wonder? Anderson’s work is an exploration of the processes and act of memory. In typical Wellcome fashion, they’ve taken a totally sideways approach to a question of scientific interest, and are using Anderson’s work to create a dialogue with audiences about the significance of memory in a digital age, asking weighty and thought-provoking questions.

The best part about the exhibition is seeing both the process and the finished product. The first room is The Studio, where volunteers are in the process of wrapping a hollowed out 1967 Ford Mustang. The wires are thin spindles that dance in the half-light. Seeing the process in action, you can see their concentration on the significance, shape, purpose and form of the object. The increasing layers of copper obscure it in to an indifferent form. Other volunteers are covering smaller objects, a VHS and an iPhone. There are shelves of objects waiting to be given the Anderson treatment, including a vinyl, a CD, a VHS of A Clockwork Orange, a cassette tape and a typewriter, all now considered redundant technology. Their journey in to obscurity from our collective memories is echoed in the increasing layers of copper wire.

Anderson is no stranger to publically revealing her process to the public, as her Travelling Studio has been doing just that for a few years. She says: “Each woven item is a ritual object. Small ones elicit an intense concentration, generating fast motions, whilst larger objects require slower movements that engender deep collaboration and exchange. These charged works are markers of time and affirm for me the value of physical records and the power of human memory in the fascinating digital age we live in.”

The next room is made up of Everyday Objects, those possessions so familiar to us that they have faded in to the background of our lives. The exhibition is beautifully lit, and the objects create striking landscapes. At the end of this room, a staircase rises luminous and shining in to nothing, almost mythical and folkloric. Seeing the final products, you squint until the small ping of recognition reveals the object underneath. The process of recognition and remembrance reminds you of their significance, but their copper uniform renders them indifferent and without purpose. They blend in to each other like the objects we ignore each day. The process is a ritual of remembrance, the finished product a relic of the past. Objects include a radio, an Apple charger, a TV, a pair of glasses, some beautiful old keys, a toaster and a Coke bottle, but some of the objects just defy recognition, totally obscured. This room is beautifully laid out so the objects create a subverted version of a traditional sculpture gallery. It raises questions about the meaning and significance of objects when their purpose has faded from memory.

The Wellcome have also taken the principles of Anderson’s work and organised a series of events and discussions that pick up on the themes of memory and rituals. Highlights include a discussion called Rituals in the 21st Century: continuity or reinvention with an expert on neo-shamanism, digital anthropology and a sociologist. You can also donate your own object to be ‘mummified’ by the artist and her other members of the public, becoming a permanent part of The Studio Archive. There’s will be a Saturday symposium called The Stuff of Memory, a sort of round up to the exhibition in October, a full day of talks and discussions, preceded by a free Friday evening of performances.

Though this is a departure from the Wellcome’s comfort zone, it is a visually striking exhibition. It is especially thought provoking given the forums the Wellcome has opened up to discuss the deeper significance and wider ramifications of Anderson’s work, and memory in a thoroughly digital culture. You’ll come out looking at everything you own as an artefact, wondering what future generations will make of the strange objects you call your own.

Alice Anderson: Memory Movement Memory Objects is at the Wellcome Collection until 18th October, and is free. For more information on the events accompanying it, please see the website.

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