What do you do every day to make you superhuman? Put on a batsuit? Maybe wear glasses? Or take the contraceptive pill?
Wellcome Collection's latest exhibition, Superhuman, aims to investigate just that: what people do to help them function beyond nature.
It does so by doing what the Wellcome Collection does best: rummaging around for the strangest medical, scientific and cultural artefacts which, in this case, humans have been using to make themselves better since Egyptian times.
A series of photographs from 1887, showing a double-amputee move from a chair
A Victorian dildo, an iPhone and a nose prosthesis for a 19th-century syphilis victim are just some of them. Despite the ease at which this exhibition could descend into freakshowery, however, it doesn't.
For one thing, there's plenty of good video art present. Charlotte Jarvis's short film shows men longing for, and receiving, fictional plastic surgery that will transform them into superheroes. Regina Jose Galindo's piece is more blunt: a naked woman becoming a brutal canvas for a plastic surgeon's felt-tip as he turns her slim body into the image of 'normality'.
Superhuman touches on issues that are incredibly pertinent today. While the exhibition demonstrates that we've used enhancements for hundreds, if not thousands of years, it now feels a very apt time to consider this issue in London. Even if the Paralympians and Olympians weren't descending on the Capital in a matter of days, our hunger for being better than nature intended is everywhere.
11-year-old Philippa Smeed using her feet to drink due to shortened arms.
Jodie Marsh springs to mind while watching Francesca Steele's video. The artist is also a bodybuilder, whose work is intrinscially linked with her almost obscenely tanned, rippling body.
The false penis of the 'Wizzinator' brings both drug addicts and potentially cheating athletes to mind, while even as something as everyday as a 1972 Nike trainer shows how we all try to enhance ourselves without really thinking about it.
A 1938 poster about 'virile manhood: the official organ of the Laurance Institute of Health & Stamina'
There is a lot that is very thought-provoking about the show. The gathered miniature prostheses for Thalidomide children in one corner are incredibly poignant, as are the videos and images which accompany them. Another display contrasts the power of comic book superheros with the fragility of people who try to emulate them in real life. Videos of athletes are all the more amazing upon realising they are running with disabilities.
In a summer of superhuman achievements and countless cultural events devoted to them, there's a good chance this show could trump the efforts of our other 'Cultural Olympiads' - no prostheses required.
Superhuman is on at Wellcome Collection until 16 October
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