Get the picture

31 January 2014

While visiting a museum or gallery, have you ever wished to get closer to the artworks; maybe even touch them? Muriel Bailly looks at some of our current or upcoming exhibitions which get you that bit closer.

The distance between an audience and art, although usually necessary, can be frustrating. It may be what inspired a new generation of artists in the 1990s to include the public in their productions; a movement called relational art. In the past few decades, artists have tried to bring down the boundaries between art, museums and visitors. The controversial artist Michael Landy, whose work is exhibited in our Medicine Now gallery, succeeded in that attempt in his latest exhibition Saints Alive at the National Gallery. Inspired by the museum’s collection, Landy created gigantic sculptures between 10 and 12 feet tall, which were put into motion by visitor participation. The exhibition only really happens thanks to the public animating the figures.

Another artist actively encouraging the audience to take part in her work is Alice Anderson. Anderson is mainly known for her action of “mummifying” objects and monuments in copper wire and red fibre as a reflection on memory. In September 2012 she started Alice Anderson’s Travelling Factory at the Whitechapel Gallery. With this project, Anderson invites the audience to interact with objects and spaces using copper wire. The Travelling Factory will stop at Wellcome Collection for our summer exhibition called Memory Object, Memory Movement.

But if you are a museum enthusiast who relishes the opportunity to get hands on with art you don’t have to wait until this summer. Wellcome Collection’s current exhibition, Foreign Bodies, Common Ground (running until the March 16), offers a unique opportunity: not only can you touch the artworks, but you can step into them too.

 Pata Picha Studio Photograph, 2012. One of a series of portraits taken in Kilifi, Kenya. By Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki.

Pata Picha Studio Photograph, 2012. One of a series of portraits taken in Kilifi, Kenya. By Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki.

The idea for the exhibition was borne out of Wellcome Collection’s desire to engage and inform the public about the medical research that the Wellcome Trust funds. This is how the Art in Global Health project came about. Six artist residencies were set up in Wellcome Trust funded research centres around the globe: Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and the UK. The artists spent six months in their residencies exploring the medical research carried out, from the points of view of both the scientists and the local community. They produced works of art to illustrate their findings and experience.

Among the various works you will find Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki’s Pata Picha studio. Pata Picha means ‘get the picture’ in Swahili. James and Miriam spent their residency in Kenya exploring the dynamic between the researchers and the “researched on”; investigating how each community perceives and works with the other. They met with scientists from the KEMRI (Kenya Medical Research Institute) as well as members of the local community. Through these conversations they identified education, belief, context, exploration and money & power to be important elements of the health research and aspects that influence the relationship between the two groups. The Pata Picha studio is a visual representation of these findings. Members of the community were invited to come into the studio to have their picture taken with items that represent all five areas identified by Miriam’s and James’ research, including altered lab coats. The aim was for the local community to explore the scientists’ world and for each to step out of their routine to create a better understanding of each other’s communities.

Until March 16, the Pata Picha studio is at Wellcome Collection offering visitors the opportunity to step into an art installation, explore another side of medical research and have their picture taken and printed on the spot (free of charge) to take away as a souvenir. If you make it along, be sure to share your photo on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #PataPicha and (as if any more inspiration were needed) have a look at our Pata Picha gallery bellow.

 @jennifer ball: "Playing mad doctors with @NiamhCoghlan at the #patapicha exhibit @wellcometrust today! Loved the customised labcoats!"

@jennifer ball: “Playing mad doctors with @NiamhCoghlan at the #patapicha exhibit @wellcometrust today! Loved the customised labcoats!”

 @martinmckee: "Great exhibition by resident artists at #Wellcome Trust med centres - @Dorothymckee pauses in #patapicha exhibit."

@martinmckee: “Great exhibition by resident artists at #Wellcome Trust med centres – @Dorothymckee pauses in #patapicha exhibit.”

 @ramblinreynolds: "Our own take on the Foreign Bodies exhibition @wellcometrust. It's a bit different to the other #patapicha pictures."

@ramblinreynolds: “Our own take on the Foreign Bodies exhibition @wellcometrust. It’s a bit different to the other #patapicha pictures.”

 Wellcome Collection staff members couldn't resist having their photo taken too.

Even Wellcome Collection staff members couldn’t resist having their photo taken.

Muriel Bailly is a Visitor Services Assistant at Wellcome Collection.

Foreign Bodies, Common Ground runs until the 16th of March 2014.