Marius Kwint is curator of the Wellcome Collection’s new show Brains, an exhibition oozing grey matter. He talks to The London Word about its cerebral theme; why Google isn’t making us stupid and the reasons London is an unbeatable destination for visual culture.
Tell us about the Wellcome Collection’s new Brains exhibition…
‘The thinking behind the exhibition’s tagline, “Ask not what the brain does for us but what we do to brains” is to show the brain as a cultural object, and how we deal with things and therefore each other. It’s an attempt to look at social and cultural actions and what we make the brain into in the way we represent it, cut it up, turn it into images, preserve and collect it. All these things are important parts of what you might call our material culture – which have values and stories at their heart.’
In what way does the show critique our historical approach to understanding the brain?
‘If you look at the history of science and technology you have to encounter this idea of the Enlightenment which is stereotyped as a belief in progress and reason.
‘The show looks at the way humans value the brain by comparing them to find our material essence, and the way that process was flawed because it ended up reducing people to their material core, without having a full understanding of the way the brain interacts with the environment or the way people interact with each other.’
Do you believe that the internet is somehow rewiring our brains, as some studies have suggested?
‘To an extent everything you do rewires the brain all the time, each thought and emotion you have. But the idea of wiring is possibly a dubious metaphor, which we tend to use because we think in terms of electronic connections. Actually the neurobiology of the brain is much more complex. It’s partly about connectivity but it’s also about the chemical mix and myriad flow patterns. So, the idea that the brain is physically being re-wired in some way by technology: while it may have some importance at a developmental stage, you can’t really say how much that is happening. Having said that, adaptability of neural connections is a hallmark of mammals.’
How would you rate London as a destination for visual culture?
‘The fact we have free access to world class visual imagery makes it hard to beat as a city. I’ve certainly never been anywhere else in the world where you don’t have to part with $20 or 20 euros every time you go into a museum. So I think it’s extraordinarily rich and a lot of that is to do with those Victorian institutions set up with the principal of free access.
‘As a city it does have a particularly vibrant visual culture and that’s because of all sorts of things as well – it’s a world city with a strong ethnic mix, and there is a thriving, slightly rebellious artistic culture still and I think all those things are important.’
Marius Kwint is senior lecturer in Visual Arts at Portsmouth University. He’ll be discussing the themes of the show at the screening of the DocHouse documentary Surviving Progress on Thursday 17 May, the Tricycle Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road.
The Brains exhibition runs until June 17 at:
The Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road
Tel: 020 7611 2222
Photo courtesy of Nathanael Corre, Wellcome Images