Young and Naked: Vee Speers’ Party Guests

I caught sight of Vee Speers‘ photographs in an article recently in the Metro, where residents living near her Chelsea gallery show had kicked up a fuss about her work being ‘distasteful’ and ‘semi-pornographic’. No doubt the complaints have generated more publicity for the exhibition and the artist than they have deterred visitors. The exhibition, entitled ‘The Birthday Party’ features children dressed up as if to attend a party in a range of quirky and curious outfits. The pictures have an almost-painted quality, they’re pale and slightly eerie, staring doe-eyed, reminding me of the work of Erwin Olaf and digital artist Ray Caesar. The photographs are of Veers’ own daughter and her friends, though she has put together the outfits for the photographs. Some of the shots do involve nudity; a girl clutches dolls to her bare chest, a boy poses with in his underwear with boxing gloves, a girl wears a Minnie mouse-style outfit un-buttoned at the chest. Admittedly these poses might be more provocative for an adult, but I don’t think they’re presented in a sexualised way. Even the shots in which the children dress in more ‘adult’ outfits, the image seems more like ‘playing dress-up as grown-ups’ rather than imitating maturity.

Nudity in itself need not be something sexual or offensive, and in childhood it can be very innocent and playful. Often family photos of children when they’re young will involve some nudity, perhaps playing on the beach or in the garden. Sometimes kids don’t want to wear clothes! Young children don’t tend to feel embarrassed or ashamed of their naked bodies, they haven’t yet learnt to treat it as such. Where does the concern come from over these images? Is it that they might encourage others to view children in a sexual way, or that those who have an attraction to children might find them arousing? Unfortunately we can’t choose what other people get turned on by, one man’s porn is another’s M&S lingerie catalogue. Personally I find these photos rather fascinating, they seem to create a rather bizarre and perfect world ruled by children, with its own rites and customs, that we are not invited to. Sometimes children wear less clothing, but it’s for themselves, it’s their own, not for others. The photos are beautifully composed, simple yet exquisite. The combination of something soft and natural and something more fantastical. We’re all naked underneath and maybe there’s nothing inherently offensive or erotic about a nude body out of any associated context. Maybe we need to decouple the body and nudity from sexuality, which though often intertwined, can exist separately.

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Brains @ The Wellcome Collection

I visited London’s Wellcome Collection for the first time a couple of months ago, and I think it’s already one of my favourite museums. It’s a wonderful conglomeration of two things I love: science and art. It’s a strange and eye-opening place, not too big, but perfectly contained.

Henry Wellcome, innovative pharmacist and businessman, was also a very keen (and rather obsessive) collector of all things medically-related. The collection housed in the museum is a cornucopia of historical artefacts, implements, paintings, photographs and sketches and all number of delightful curiosities. Here you’ll find shrunken heads, chastity belts, paintings of individuals with deformity and Chinese medicine dolls. I found it utterly fascinating.

Often seen as opposites, the second main exhibition  is a collaboration between the worlds of science and art. It houses a collections of pieces of art inspired by science, and science at its most artistic. Exhibits offer artistic interpretations on topics such as malaria, obesity and the genome project, and items such as a large glass sculpture of a virus, show the natural world in its beautiful intricacy.

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Box-model of the brain, used for teaching in mid-20th century

With this in mind, I’m very excited that the upcoming exhibition is on one of my favourite topics, Brains! The Wellcome say ‘Our major new free exhibition seeks to explore what humans have done to brains in the name of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning and technological change. Featuring over 150 artefacts including real brains, artworks, manuscripts, artefacts, videos  and photography, ‘Brains’ follows the long quest to manipulate and decipher the most unique and mysterious of human organs, whose secrets continue to confound and inspire.’

I shall be all over this. I expect there will be some items like kits for trepanning, old fashioned brain-maps and a few obligatory brains-in-jars. Quite excited. It’s on from the 29th March – 17th June, I shall report back when I’ve actually gone. In the meantime, they have this nifty game on the website where you can grow your own neuron cell (and compete against a mean rival neuron who keeps getting in your way). It’s pretty distracting.