‘Electrifying’ new exhibition unveiled at Wellcome Collection gallery in London

Electricity: The spark of life, a new exhibition which explores the story of humankind’s evolving relationship with electricity, has opened to visitors at the Wellcome Collection gallery on London’s Euston Road.

For centuries man has striven to understand electricity, and to unlock and master its power. This new exhibition shows how this invisible yet vital force is fundamental to human life, and has, over the years, captivated the minds of inventors, scientists and artists alike.

Through the historical objects and curiosities “we look at how our lives have been shaped by electricity”, said Ruth Garde, one of the exhibition’s co-curators.

The collection, she said, represents a “journey through humankind’s manifold relationships with electricity”, exploring the complex social, cultural and the scientific aspects electricity’s use throughout history.

The exhibition features three new commissions by international artists John Gerrard, Camille Henrot and Bill Morrison, as well as over 100 historical specimens, from 19th century lightbulbs, hand-assembled electricity consumption graphs, and an early edition of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’.

Once through the exhibition’s doors the journey begins immediately, with three curious objects aligned to catch visitor’s eyes. A preserved amber frog, one of the first documented cases of static electricity, sits alongside an illustrated fish plate, adorned with crackling images of the electric torpedo fish, and an engraving of Jupiter, the god of sky and thunder. These objects serve to introduce the gallery and the many obscure wonders which await the keen eye of visitors.

The exhibition is arranged into three themes, each representing a new era in the understanding and use of electricity. The first of which, generation, looks at early scientific investigation in the 18th century and attempts to visualise electricity.

“One of the themes you get in the room is of the life-giving and death-dealing qualities of electricity,” said Garde.

To highlight this very point, an electrotherapeutic chair, made in late 19th century from plush red velvet and used as a form of treatment for a variety of ills, is placed alongside a gruesome image of the very first electric chair.

Journeying further into the exhibition unveils a second room, which explores the world of electricity supply. Curiosities include one of the first batteries – a voltaic pile from the early 19th century – as well as antique circuit keys and an intricate model of an historic high-voltage power station.

The final room, which looks at consumption, is given over to the interior and domestic landscape and highlights the use of electricity in the home. A rustic copper tea kettle is accompanied by a delightful poster advertising personal beauty cream which ‘softens, fortifies and electrifies’ the body, the advert depicts an electrified naked athlete springing from a glass bottle.

‘Electricity: The spark of life’ runs from 23 February to 25 June 2017, and has been produced in collaboration with Teylers Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands, and the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, UK. Following its stay at Wellcome Collection, the exhibition will travel to both Manchester and Haarlem from summer 2017 onwards.

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