Perspectives: I can’t help the way I feel

26 February 2014

We are fascinated by the photographs our visitors take of the objects and spaces within Wellcome Collection. Thanks to Instagram, we can not only see what’s eye catching but also how people view us and our material. Charlie Morgan and Russell Dornan explore one of the most photographed objects with a little help from the public.

 Wellcome Collection Instagram

Visitors who enter our gallery Medicine Now are unlikely to miss I can’t help the way I feel.  The John Isaacs artwork is by far the biggest object in the space, but is also the most eye-catching. Initial responses regularly range from shock to horror and are often followed by an assumption that this must either be based upon a real person or instead be a warning of what could happen if obesity were left unchecked. However, the name of the piece indicates that Isaacs is putting across a far more nuanced point.

In the first case this could never be a real person. The wax sculpture may be in human form but it lacks arms, genitalia and a head: the last of which any human being would need to survive. But the lack of these parts also strips the figure of all identifying features and any kind of individuality. All that remains is an ever expanding mass of tumorous fat. As such, far from being a realistic representation of what someone could be, the piece is instead a depiction of how people could, and do, feel. I can’t help the way I feel reflects what Isaacs calls the ‘emotional landscape’ of someone who might glance in the mirror and see themselves in a certain way when in reality they look nothing of the sort. So it’s a piece about obesity, but it’s equally a piece about anorexia and about body dysmorphia; it’s about the personal implications of a society obsessed with an ‘obesity epidemic’ and with body image.

 A selection of photographs taken by the public and uploaded to Instagram of the John Isaacs sculpture "I can't help the way I feel". Click through to see the full gallery.

A selection of photographs taken by the public and uploaded to Instagram of the John Isaacs sculpture “I can’t help the way I feel”. Click through to see the full gallery.

Of course, it’s also an outstanding work of art and a fantastic photo opportunity for Wellcome Collection visitors; it is one of our most photographed objects. Since the sculpture challenges its viewers to see things in new ways it lends itself to being scrutinised from many angles. En masse photos of the same object may force you to notice small details, look harder and generally see it differently. The photographs above are all from Instagram courtesy of the curious public. Click on the image to see the gallery in full and witness the different perspectives (as well as many similar ones) offered by visitors to the gallery. Next time you’re in Medicine Now why not take one yourself? Remember to tag it #WellcomeCollection or #wayIfeel if sharing on Instagram or Twitter and let us know how it makes you feel.

Charlie Morgan is a Visitor Services Assistant at Wellcome Collection and Russell Dornan is the Web Editor at Wellcome Collection.