A trip to the ‘Institute’
With the first of this years’ drop-in events, ‘Researching Pornography’ taking pace at Wellcome Collection as part of the year-long, ‘evolving’ exhibition Sexology, I look back at Triggerfish’s first visit in November.
Becca and I attended the press viewing for ‘The Institute of Sexology’ at Wellcome Collection, an exploration of evolution of our attitudes to sex and the men and women who pioneered the study of the subject.
We approached the exhibition on a chilly Wednesday morning with excitement and intrigue and we weren’t disappointed. Walking around the ‘Institute’ we were met by over 200 objects of archival material, art, film and photography, some of which caused a burst of childish giggling and pointing. Amongst the artefacts were ‘anti-masturbation devices’, contraception, the ‘orgasmatron’ and sex machines from the 19th century.
Despite the subject, the display isn’t ‘sexualised’; it is the study of sex, it is art, history, science and it very much delves into the realms of sociology and psychology by looking at the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, Sigmund Freud, Marie Stopes, Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Mead, William Masters and Virginia Johnson, and the team behind the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal).
The exhibition opens with a video showing dramatic scenes of the Nazi’s burning Magnus Hirschfield’s collection of books and archive material which he spent his whole life creating and later on shows a letter to Marie Stopes which reads, “Decent English people are disgusted at your filthy suggestions…Sexual gratification is not the only thing that makes life worth living, as you seem to think”. These are just a couple of examples of exhibits which highlight the range of reactions and emotions that the subject of sex can evoke.
What I found most interesting was Carolee Schneemann’s ‘Ye Olde Sex Chart’, a sexual parameters chart which details her encounters with sexual partners in the 70s by set categories; and interviews with college students talking about their experiences and the importance of sex in their lives. These added a personal element to the science, which was candid and brave. This then begins to raise the subject of feminism and sexual identity, adding to the wide reaching topics which the exhibition touches on.
‘The Institute of Sexology’ will evolve over the course of the year, with new commissions, live interventions, discussions and performances in the gallery space. The way the exhibition develops will also be based on how visitors respond, which in itself makes it an active exploration of current attitudes to sex.
Just writing this blog post has made me realise just how complex the ‘Institute’ is, there is so much to think about and to analyse and that is what makes it so interesting. It’ll make you think about your own attitudes to sex and spark some very interesting conversation for some time afterwards. It really is worth seeing; it’s open now and runs until September 2015 and if you needed any more convincing, it’s also free.