The Welcome Institute’s latest exhibition is a bit of a mess but that’s hardly surprising given its subject matter.

Dirt charts our relationship with everything from soil and air pollution to household refuse, hospital bugs and excrement.

This, like so many of the institute’s previous offerings, could have been something special but comes across as messy and throwaway as its topic.

There’s even some pointlessly pretentious performance art thrown in the shape of drum majorettes twirling their batons in a deserted warehouse and a loop tape of someone washing their hands thrown in to wow! us chimps into thinking we’re missing something. However, Dirt does has its moments.

The Untouchables of India charged with cleaning out public latrines and drains – often with their bare hands -  and the Fresh Kills landfill site on Staten Island which is so big it can be seen from space are among the highlights.

A better bet is to head upstairs to the permanent exhibition of the museum’s namesake Henry Wellcome.

Wellcome, who founded one of the first pharmaceutical dynasties, collected a treasure trove of accumulated artefacts and oddities from a lifetime of kicking around the globe.

It is impossible to show all 125,000 items in his original collection but what is on show is a curio shop of the weird and wonderful guaranteed to slake the curiosity of even the most fervent voyeur.

There is a Chinese torture chair guaranteed to make your eyes water, a mummified Andean corpse, a box of 17th century Japanese sex aids and Charles Darwin’s rather groovy skull headed walking stick.

Other cabinets include a fine selection of prosthetic limbs, an assortment of surgical knives and bone saws and an early advertising board for a dentist which consists of a mobile of customers’ former teeth dangling from pieces of string.

A fine way to wile away a couple of hours if you can dodge the school trips and tourists.


The Whitechapel Art Gallery has got a faultless reputation for putting on consistently pretentious exhibitions come rain or shine. Check out this masterwork featuring string. A penetrating insight into the concept of time, linear distortion and the invisible cortex of social ties and customs that bind us in the social weave. Then again, it could just be balls of string.


You can’t help feeling itchy when you walk around Skin, the current exhibition at the Wellcome Institute in London.

Its subject matter is what holds us all together and is a curious mix of drawings, photographs and curiosity objects dedicated to the body’s largest organ.

These exhibits range from 19th century ecorche drawings of skinned anatomical bodies, a Peruvian mummy in desperate need of a glass of water and several books bound in human skin.

The effect of age and disease on the birthday suit is well represented with some queasy photographs and illustrations guaranteed to get you scratching.

The poster boy of the exhibition is the heavily tattooed face of Mr Green. He stares moodily from a photograph taken in a South African jail illustrating the significance of gang related tattoos with inmates often using ground-up bricks and batteries as pigment for their ink.

Skin’s other ghoulish delights included patches of tattooed skin cut from the bodies of French convicts, illustrations of various medical sutures and a great book on Russian prison tattoos.

Skin runs until late September.


Tourist honey pot the London Dungeons promises its visitors a ‘horrible time.’

It certainly delivers with prohibitive ticket prices, one-and-half hour queuing times and exhibits that look like they haven’t been changed since the place opened.

A motley collection of drama students ham it up in various guises as our guides through London’s historical underbelly. Truly un-terrifying, witless mannequins who could be out-acted by a parrot.

A special thank you (not) to the miserable young lump who sullenly guarded the way to Traitor’s Gate.

If they are an indication of the new vanguard of thespians we can expect lean times indeed on the Oscar front.

The only thing that scared me was the entrance price and the fact that this sort of tosh is still being promoted as one of the capital’s must see attractions.

I also suffered the humiliation of being singled out in the torture chamber and made to sit in a chair while the ‘torturer’ displayed the use of various tools of the trade.

No water boarding or sleep deprivation here. Dick Cheney’s medieval relatives applied more subtle methods such as hooks driven into the buttocks, tongue rippers, hot irons and what looked like a Medieval cigar cutter for loping off your wedding tackle.

The last straw was staggering outside to find some skull-faced midget tottering up and down Tooley Street promoting the dungeons as the ultimate tourist experience. I felt like firing him out of the nearest circus canon into a brick wall.

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