Saturday, 8 January 2011

Blythe House: Wellcome Collection Stores

Rebecca opened the door to B34 and there in front of us stood two pairs of children’s prosthetic legs, both sets had shoes and socks on, with harnesses that strapped to the body. Two children circa 1970: without bodies. Their proud stance allowed us to imagine what they may have looked like. We stood at the door not really wanting to go in, uncomfortable as we were unable to ask these semi invisible guardians for their permission to enter. Our chilling silence was broken by some nervous laughter and Kate walked through the door. I didn’t go straight over to the children’s legs, Kate drew our attention to one of the limbs she recognised from a previous visit to the stores. It had been owned by a roofer, who had mended it himself over the course of his lifetime, using bitumen left over from jobs. It was caked in layers of black tar that looked a bit like burnt treacle with glistening jet stones embedded in it. This limb was the crudest of the others that lined the shelves. Most had been beautifully crafted out of wood and early plastics, their rendering highly accurate and realistic creating a sense that we were surrounded by a room-full of sleeping limbs abandoned by their owners. Each one with the potential to spring to life and move around the room, but only once we had left it.

As we moved through this building there was a prison like quality about its labyrinthian corridors and enormous steel doors, all coated in a thick layer of light ochre paint. There wasn’t really a smell in these corridors; which had once belonged to the post office, however, certain stores had particular smells evocative of the objects they housed. When entering store B49 we were hit by a pungent waft of fluoride not surprisingly as this was housing a collection of dental objects. I dusted a twice life size plaster model of lower human teeth illustrating decay in European races as determined by Professor V. Suk, c. 1920. As I carefully moved my brush between these giant teeth I was reminded that I needed to go the dentist. There were other dental models dotted around the room, as well as an array of leather upholstered dental chairs, all equally as uninviting as the next. I started to feel a dull pain in my bottom left hand molar and knew it was time to move on.

Leaving Blythe House I was struck by a strange and unsettling sense that these inanimate objects had some how left their mark on me. Although I had been wearing a boiler suit, mask and gloves remnants of the dust I had disturbed seemed to be clinging to me: I felt a sense of urgency to get home and wash.

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