Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Wellcome Collection:Brains exhibition & The Thing is … AIDS

Update: 10/6/2012

Catherine Walker from the Wellcome has sent me details of the next "The Thing is ..." event.  They are as follows:

Our next one is called ‘The Thing Is… Nature’ and it will be on Wednesday 27th June. Like the others, the event itself will start at 19.00 but the audio description tour will start at 18.00. Here’s a blurb:

“Join Chris Hilton and Quentin Cooper to investigate the lives of two Quaker scientists of the early 19th century who changed the way we view the natural world.

Speaker: Chris Hilton, Senior Archivist, Wellcome Library

Facilitator: Quentin Cooper, broadcaster and presenter of Radio 4’s Material World

Bookings are limited to two per person. Any additional bookings will be cancelled.

Book now to receive an e-ticket

For blind and partially sighted visitors:
Members of Wellcome Collection’s Visitor Services team have been trained in audio description techniques by VocalEyes.

Join members of the team from 18:00 for audio descriptions of the ‘mystery object’, the event space and set-up, and descriptions of a small number of relevant objects from our library collections. Please note: there will be no audio description during the event.

Places for the audio description preceding the event are free but very limited. To book a place or for more information, please email access@wellcomecollection.org or call 020 7611 2222.”

*** end of update

The Wellcome Collection has continued its access programme in reaching out to many in the community.  I too have kept in touch with Catherine from the Wellcome and was invited to a “sneak peek” preview of an “object” to be discussed and unveiled in the “The Thing is” series.  This is hosted by Quentin Cooper and someone who picks an object for the permanent collection.  The guest for this May talk was Paul Steinberg.  

The invitation was as follows: 

“In the 1980s, high-income developed countries appeared to be facing their biggest threat to public health: a new, deadly illness that was widely misunderstood and that triggered a wave of panic and prejudice within and against certain groups.

Join Paul Steinberg and Quentin Cooper to explore this very recent history - how governments, communities and society at large reacted and changed in the face of this challenge, and reflect on current issues such as rising infection rates, public campaigns and health inequalities. Should we be panicking less, or more?

Speaker: Paul Steinberg, Sexual Health Promotion Specialist and journalist.
Facilitator: Quentin Cooper, broadcaster and presenter of Radio 4's Material World.

For blind and partially sighted visitors:  Members of Wellcome Collection's Visitor Services team have been trained in audio description techniques by VocalEyes.

Join members of the team from 18:00 for audio descriptions of the 'mystery object', the event space and set-up, plus descriptions of a small number of relevant objects from our library collections.  Please note: there will be no audio description during the event.”

Having been declared suitable for walking and climbing stairs on my own (no escalators), I decided to meet my friend Jackie at a London Underground Station and go to the Wellcome Collection for a viewing.  Jackie had never been before.  We got off at Euston Square and climbed some steps before getting a lift to the street level (Gower Street/UCH) and walking towards the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road.

We were early and chatting to the uniformed staff, decided to take in the Brains exhibition which closes in Mid June.  There are warnings for sighted visitors and I alerted Jackie that she might have to read out some gruesome details!   If your sighted friends are squeamish the Wellcome staff are all trained in describing detail and if you want to hear something “warts and all” you will get the answer.  There were a lot of audio items such as interviews, audio visual clips of brains being dissected and a lot of low tech and hi tech instrumentation from the past.  Some ancient writers are found in the works of Galen and Vesalius and I found the collection of old books interesting as the captions were read out.

After a coffee and muffins in the café, we met Catherine and were joined by Sara, Toby and Kerrie (Guide Dog) We took the lift to the gallery of the Wellcome Library and went to the viewing room for the sneak peek. 

The object in fact was a film of about 30 seconds used in the AIDS campaign initiated by the Government in 1987.  ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMnb536WuC0 ) The then Norman Fowler (Lord Fowler) had pushed for a stark campaign on AIDS which was beginning to be talked about.  The film illustrates the eruption of a volcano and a mason chipping away to reveal a tombstone on which a bunch of flowers is dumped.  John Hurt was the narrator. 

Also in the viewing room was a poster from the Terrence Higgins Trust in black and white and with an unusual font to my eyes.  A leaflet at the time had been dropped in every door in the country and there was a copy of this.  There was also a red ribbon. 

We discussed our memories of AIDS awareness and its evolution to the present day.
AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance.

We then walked along the gallery of the Wellcome Library while Quentin Cooper and Paul Steinberg were checking some points and trying the projection/video equipment. We descended the grand staircase and I thought it would make a good photo opportunity, so Jackie took a photo of Sara, Toby, Kerrie, me and Catherine.

At the Wellcome Collection

We then took our seats in the library for the event.  These talks can be found on : http://www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/events/the-thing-is-2.aspx a few days after the event.

Paul Steinberg covered the effect of the government (Thatcher) issuing both the video and leaflet campaign at a time when nothing was known about the progression of AIDS.  Steinberg mentioned that until the much publicised outbreak of swine flu, no public health campaign had been launched by the government in such a potentially scary method.  Mention was made about the social awareness of first AIDS and then HIV and the role of the late Princess Diana in making the condition socially acceptable for discussion.  

Steinberg regretted that Normal Fowler had issued a report on prevention rather than treatment and which had appeared to be ignored by the present government (NHS England).  He was also critical of the very low budgets available for prevention compared with the thousands of pounds per head used in the treatment of those living with HIV.  He then mentioned that government statistics on sexually transmitted infections were about to be released at midnight and I found the following link on twitter from the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/may/31/sexually-transmitted-infection-rates-soar?CMP=twt_fd

There was then a lively discussion during which I asked a question about the proposed use of a drug (Truvada) which, it is said, has profilactic properties. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/10/health/hiv-drug/index.html )

The Wellcome is where “Science, medicine and the Arts meet” and the staff are capable in dealing with all visitors.   The location is not far from the RNIB, British Library and mainline stations such as Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross.  For eavesdropping on uninhibited conversations the café must be unrivalled!

You can read more about:

Paul Steinberg on http://www.jobs.nhs.uk/faceNHS/story_ps.html
The Terrence Higgins Trust on: http://www.tht.org.uk/