London Art Reviews

Magazine of art press and reviews from London

Sensational exhibition Forensics at the Wellcome Collection, London.

David Franchi – Wednesday, 15th July 2015.

Street scene, New York City, ca. 1944 © Wellcome Collection London

Street scene, New York City, ca. 1944 © Wellcome Collection London

“Forensics” was a brilliant exhibition, at the Wellcome Collection, London.

As the Wellcome Collection is one of the best London gallery specialised in science, “Forensics: the anatomy of crime” exhibition examined its history and art. It spanned across centuries and continents. It considered the places (crime scene, courtroom, and laboratory), together with the skilled specialists and investigators involved, and the cultural appeal with death and detection humans have since centuries.

The exhibition Forensics brought together original evidences, archival material, photographic documentation, film footage, instruments and specimens. It presented laboratory finding, documents, files, and various materials, but also significant video installations and artworks.

The Wellcome Collection exhibition showed historical overviews of the forensic science and related disciplines, including entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood splatter and DNA, anthropology, digital forensics, and forensic psychology.

Divided in five rooms, Forensics exhibition started with ‘The Crime Scene’, Room 1, about the importance of examining every small element in the place where the criminal activity occurred. The Police follows strict protocols and work alongside with experts and consultants. A body inspection is made by a medical examiner or a pathologist. The crime scene is usually photographed, but, as in the past, sometimes documentary sketches are made. Scale models are also playing a significant part.

The second room, ‘The Morgue’, was about the place where a corpse is placed before burial. The contemporary

Sejla Kameric - Ab uno disce omnes © Wellcome Collection, London

Sejla Kameric – Ab uno disce omnes © Wellcome Collection, London

morgue was born in the second half of the 19th century. The term comes from the French ‘morguer’, meaning ‘to peer’. The today morgue is more clinical and is dedicated to post-mortem examinations, or autopsies. In cases of suspicious death the coroner can request an autopsy to establish the causes. The term ‘autopsy’ derives from ancient Greek and it means ‘to see with one’s own eyes’. Nowadays, forensic pathology has developed new methodologies that go together with traditional autopsy, for example the virtual autopsy table.

The third room was focused on ‘The Laboratory’. The first police crime laboratory was founded in 1910 by Edmond Locard, at the police department of Lyon (France). Locard introduced the basic principle of forensic science: “Every contact leaves a trace”. From there on, in the laboratory are conducted examination of residual traces, including DNA, fingerprints, blood, hair, skin cells, and bodily fluids. In the room there was an installation of a video, protagonist Angela Galloy, laboratory expert from Home Office Forensic Science Service.

It is important that a reconstruction of the crime events is made. In the room 4, ‘The Search’, on display there were methodologies of facial reconstruction, which as contemporary consists of a collective practice between forensic artist, forensic anthropologist, and forensic odontologist, who can recreate a cranial from remains using clay or 3D computer imaging. It is important both for forensic crime, especially when in breach of human rights, but also for identifying missing person in the aftermath of mass disasters.

"L'inconnue de la Seine ("the unknown woman of the Seine")" © Wellcome Collection, London

“L’inconnue de la Seine (“the unknown woman of the Seine”)” © Wellcome Collection, London

In this room, also was on display ‘Ab uno disce omnes’ by Šejla Kamerić the most important artwork of the Wellcome exhibition. It comes from Virgil’s Aeneid and translates as “from one learn all”. It was a sort of refrigerating room with a video installation inside. It was conceived as a living monument to the Bosnian War massacre (1992-95). Kamerić has assembled a vast archive that unites the human stories with the mass data and statistic generated by the ongoing effort to identify the victims. ‘Ab uno disce omnes’ is also dedicated to Chilean victims of dictatorship regime of Pinochet.

The last room was titled ‘The Courtroom’, which represents the final stage of an investigation. The model of contemporary Western courtrooms is based on the ancient Roman system. The adversarial system, instead, arrived in the English law in the 18th century. The need of a precise medical support for investigation became more and more important and lead to the Medical witness Act (1836). The Old Bailey was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Nowadays, the accuracy of medical evidence is so important that can decide a trial, for example, the DNA test has been used to clear many wrongly convicted who were on the death row.

In this room, artist Taryn Simon displayed her work made of a number of interviews and photographs depicting the upsetting consequences of wrong convictions on innocents.

The importance of forensic support for an investigation is today undisputable. However, in the past the situation was very different. Despite the modern trial is based on the medieval one, the notion that condemnation should be based

Poison bottle, blue for arsenic in solution © Wellcome Collection, London

Poison bottle, blue for arsenic in solution © Wellcome Collection, London

on proper evidences is a recent matter. In the past, in fact, people were accused or found guilty for many different reasons, but no ascertained proof, for example, their lack of status; their origins; because of their, or a relative, ability with herbs; for the colour of their skin; because they had sex with an inappropriate partner; because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time; or for any other reason not connected with their real responsibility.

Therefore, forensic has been a key stone, since it started to be used in investigations.

With a small quirky hint, the Wellcome Collection exhibition was amazing, and proposed an unusual point of view on a matter much enjoyed by the people and also writers – especially those of crime stories. It highlighted the relationship between law and medicine.

A wide programme of events accompanied the exhibition, including a successful publication of the same name, by crime writer Val McDermid.

The exhibition “Forensics: the anatomy of crime” was at the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London, from 26th February 2015 until 21st June 2015.

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One comment on “Sensational exhibition Forensics at the Wellcome Collection, London.

  1. Pingback: 5 Forensic Science Myths | Victoria Weisfeld

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