The Wellcome Collection with a young adult

I spent the day in The Wellcome Collection. We were very kindly given a tour by one of the curators. I think if you’re presiding over an ethnographic museum from that era, you are going to have to be aware of the colonialism that made such things possible. Ditto the exploitation that led to all that money. But our tour was so completely wrapped up in hesitant apologetics for the very existence of the collection that it failed to take into account that there were some really interesting items with history and power. I was there with Scene and Heard, working with a young writer who lives in Mornington Crescent. She will be making a part of a play based on the collection. We were only shown a fraction of the public galleries, and it was mostly just a very well meaning woman apologising. We wanted to know things and see things. We can make our own minds up.

The tour didn’t stop us from finding things. Our team started off by looking at the device by which people blend and consume one another’s poo in order to ensure a diverse gut biome. Then we were curious about The Odin: DIY gene editing. Our guide had nothing about it though so we wandered into other less modern areas. Upstairs in the reading room we found pictures and posters. A big selection of period AIDS posters from different countries. “Did you notice the difference between the American posters and the French ones,” she asked me. I hadn’t. “The American ones are all threatening and negative, but the French ones are positive.” I look again. She’s right. But one from America strikes her and me for being outside of the narrative: “I have AIDS, please hug me, I can’t make you sick.” Mostly though its America doing toes on a gurney with a tag. “He didn’t use a condom”, and France with cartoons or sunshine and smiling. “This holiday I forgot everything. Except protection!!”

She’s right. Different countries employing different ways of controlling the flow of popular thought through the prism of a disease control imperative. Considering it is just a small section in the reading room, it was a powerful feeling towards what we have all been experiencing now. The world is no longer late eighties believe it or not. Looking at those posters we learnt a bit more about how the narrative has shifted. The internet has brought groupings. The internet has gathered. Advertising metrics have worked out the thoughtpoints around which most people coalesce, and has flagged us all with so many notional labels. Algorithms have realised that we respond more if certain dialogues are encouraged. And if we aren’t paying attention we are gently ushered into extremism by robots, even if we can’t read very well.

“You can teach her a little,” Lou responded when I told her something of the circumstances of the young adult I’m working with. “She can teach me,” I responded because we are both outside one another’s experience, but strangely bonded by Latin. Her school has made provision. She’s doing it as a fourth GCSE, coming in out of hours. She told me where Caecilius is. 33 years later and he’s STILL in the bloody horto.

We found a picture of The Dance of Death though, and that seemed to be the catalyst for her character. It’s a German picture. Death dancing with everybody. The rich and the poor, the powerful and the crushed. We will all have a part in her dance, and when it finishes she will help us go to the place we are “supposed” to go to. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. She helps make things better by dressing up cheerfully and being friendly and bright.

We’ve sewn the bones of something here today. Tomorrow we just need to reap what we’ve sewn. She will write her piece and I will interfere as little as possible other than typing. I’m excited about what she might bring though. She’s a force.

In terms of light it’s not really possible to get a good picture of the glass covered dance of death. Here’s the best I’ve got.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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