Exhibition as theatre

This project is part of a case study of Medicine Now, a permanent exhibition on Biomedical science at the Wellcome Collection in Euston, London. The Wellcome Collection positions itself as a direct competitor to the Tate or the V&A so the objective of the study was to ascertain how this exhibition measures as a cultural and learning space.

This isn’t an exhibition where objects and artefacts are simply displayed on plinths and on the wall. It is carefully curated, designed and constructed to stage a particular kind of atmosphere. One that is reminiscent of a science lab but with enough warmth to feel inviting and comfortable. A unique characteristic of the exhibition is the incorporation of specially commissioned works of Art to explore and express ideas about science in a way that is accessible and memorable. I therefore chose to construct the case study as an exhibition staged in 4 acts:

Act 1: The Stage
Act 2: The Script
Act 3: Set Design
Act 4: The Play.

Medicine Now case study

While act 1 to 3 were documented in a written format (see above), Act 4 is in fact a short film that explores a visitor’s experience of the gallery and its content, based on personal interpretations and an evaluation of environmental conditions using a sensory chart (image below) created by Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka (Malnar, J. M. & Vodvarka, F. (2004). Sensory Design. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p.248).

Sensory slider

This is a quote from Leon Van Schaik taken from his book ‘Spatial Intelligence’. ‘We need historians, novelists or film makers to bring the spaces of the past to life in the light of the mental space of those who commissioned, designed and made them.’ (2008, p.16) In this film though, it’s not the mental space of the designers I wish to express but that of a visitor.


The film is called ‘X & Y’ after the X and Y chromosomes as the Wellcome Trust was instrumental to the development of the Human Genome Project. It explores the concept of scale initiated by the microscopic world of genomes encoded in our DNA and expresses how from this tiny world we discover something bigger than ourselves. The protagonist, a drop of blood, takes us on a journey from the micro to the macro, providing an insight into who we are and how we perceive the world around us. The film is set within a red and white environment as a direct reference to the design of the exhibition, while quadratic forms represent the scientific quest to rationalise the unknown. 

The scenography of the film functions as a form of exhibition review and differs from traditional written accounts. Expressed in a media not usually used for this purpose by spatial designers, the review becomes perceptual and is able to take us on a journey beyond the limits of the exhibition space, into the mind of visitors, offering an insight into the effect of the exhibition content on their perceptions. Although this is of course a personal interpretation and therefore, bound to some degree of subjectivity, the method used encourages a move beyond the descriptive and analytical towards the reflective and responsive.