Brains! London exhibition looks inside our skulls

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The exhibition drives that point home, viscerally, with an assortment of skull saws, drills and other items from the brain surgeon’s toolbox, as well as a graphic 1930s instructional film on how to perform a craniotomy.

The Wellcome Collection is a cross between medical museum and art gallery, and the exhibits on display range from the clinical to the artistic.

The medical specimens are interspersed with artworks that deal with the brain, including Annie Cattrell’s silvered bronze casts of the inside of a skull and Katharine Dowson’s delicate, feathery images based on cerebral angiograms.

There are constant reminders that brains have long been collectible, for interests of science or curiosity. Kwint said the show is, in part, an exploration “of the ethics and politics and even the economy of the giving and taking of brains.”

From 19th-century scientists taking the brains of criminals to the Nazis experimenting on those they considered their racial inferiors, brains have often been taken without their owners’ consent.

Today’s scientists are once again on a quest to archive brains _ this time with the permission of their donors _ in the hope of unlocking the secrets of degenerative neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s.

The exhibition ends on a hopeful note, with testimonies from people who have agreed to leave their brains to science.

One, Albert Webb, says in a recording that he made the decision so “I won’t be burnt to death when I get into a coffin.”

“And I should be doing a bit of good, perhaps, to somebody.”



Jill Lawless can be reached at:

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