This show at the Wellcome Institute, Euston Road, focusses on the brain as a physical object rather than a difference engine of dreams, so the tone is (appropriately for the Wellcome) medical rather than philosophical. That means there’s plenty of stuff about neurones, electroshock therapy, trepanation, MRI scans and historical efforts to map and preserve the human brain.
I imagine a separate exhibition could centre on the brain’s abilities to project and imagine, and it would be interesting to see Dr Oliver Sachs curating material about the guises of sensory perception. Until then we have this fairly graphic array of drilling into, exposing and exploring the mass of the brain – there’s a preserved Egyptian brain on display, the only one in existence that wasn’t hooked out through the nose – but the emphasis is on historical records rather than future mapping, although there’s a 3D imaging system that can show doctors how and where brain problems – including an aneurism and a bullet – can occur.
A couple of famous brains and their donors feature, although of course the institute could have arranged to display those belonging to, say, Chantelle Houghton and Alex Reid as they’re clearly not using them, but they may have been difficult to see without an electron microscope. There are some hideous pieces of Victorian brain surgery equipment, and visual representations of the brain forming neural pathways, but for such a weighty subject the exhibition feels oddly insubstantial, more like the exploration of a gearbox and its accompanying tools.
It ends with a light-hearted wall of trashy movie posters showing science fiction’s obsession with the brain.