Oops!…I wrote a Britney blog post

How does a record breaking pop icon relate to a medical, art and science museum like Wellcome Collection? The link may (quite rightly) be tenuous, but as the singer’s ninth album is released today, our Web Editor Russell Dornan has trawled the collections in celebration, looking for any connections he could find (no matter how questionable!).

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With …Baby One More Time Britney exploded into the charts.

Ever since Britney Spears erupted on the pop scene in the late ’90s, she smashed records and captured the public’s imagination. I still remember her first appearance on TOTP when I was 15 and how my mind was blown. Crowned the Princess of Pop, her debut single “…Baby One More Time” reached number 1 in every country it charted and is still one of the best selling singles of all time.

Spears’ subsequent work over the last 18 years has provoked controversy, earned her awards and immortalised her in pop culture forever. Today sees the release of Britney Spears’ ninth album. To mark the occasion I had a thorough listen through Britney’s back catalogue, looking for any links to our collections buried in her (very – ahem – sophisticated) lyrics. What follows is hopefully a fun and unexpected way to explore our themes and objects, whether you’re a fan or not.

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Email my heart

Album …Baby One More Time
Year 1999
Listen

Remember when emails and the internet were still culturally novel enough to be cool gimmicks in a pop song?

“It’s been hours seems like days, since you went away,
And all I do is check the screen to see if you’re ok.
You don’t answer when I phone, guess you wanna be left alone.

I can see you in my mind, coming on the line
And opening this letter that I’ve sent a hundred times.”

I’ve paired these song lyrics with a composite artwork illustrating the search for health information on the internet. And you thought Britney had nothing to do with a medical museum!

B0003323 Internet self help - composite artwork

Internet self help – composite artwork. (Credit: Nanette Hoogslag.)

Dear Diary

Album Oops!…I Did It Again
Year 2000
Listen

As cheesy as the lyrics below are (the song itself is all about Britney telling her diary about a boy she likes), these lines struck a prophetic chord with me.

And it scares me
‘Cause I’ve never felt this way
No one in this world
Knows me better than you do
So diary I’ll confide in you

The lyrics made me think about a diary in our collection. Bobby Baker began her diary drawings in 1997 when she became a patient at a day centre. Originally private, they gradually became a way for her to communicate complex thoughts and emotions that are difficult to articulate to her family, friends and professionals.

For the one below she wrote: “I was desperate to keep my normal life intact but my responsibilities as a working wife and mother sometimes felt like this.” This hits pretty close to the bone in the context of Britney’s experiences too.

B0007880 Diary Drawings: Day 104

Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings: Day 104 (Credit: Bobby Baker)

When your eyes say it

Album Oops!…I Did It Again
Year 2000
Listen

Even Britney knows how important our eyes are in communicating with each other. (She feels it too.)

But when your eyes say it
That’s when I know that it’s true
I feel it
I feel the love coming through
I know it
I know that you truly care for me
Cause it’s there to see
When your eyes say it

There was a lot to choose from when it came to the theme of eyes. What do our eyes say? They’re arguably the most important and communicative parts of our faces, able to get across a huge range of feelings and emotions, from the dramatic to the subtle. You can read more about facial expressions in our previous post.

V0009230 Eyes expressing good character (according to Lavater). Drawi

Eyes expressing various characters. Drawing, c. 1794.

Breathe on me

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

At first it seemed that Britney got a bit more risqué with this album. Until I realised this song was possibly about mouth-to-mouth.

We don’t need to touch
Just breathe

Monogamy is the way to go
Just put your lips together and blow

Breathe, breathe

I’m not advocating that this song is the only training you need to perfect your rescue breathing technique, but the lyrics could have been written especially for this image in our collection…

N0017260 Basic life support, simulated cardiac arrest, no respiration

Rescue breathing is initiated using mouth-to-mouth technique.

Toxic

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

One of Britney’s biggest hits, this song was originally offered to Kylie Minogue, pop fans. The song is about a lover who is likened to a dangerous, yet addictive, drug. So right up our street then…

The taste of your lips
I’m on a ride
You’re toxic I’m slippin’ under
With a taste of a poison paradise
I’m addicted to you
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
And I love what you do
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
It’s getting late
To give you up
I took a sip
From my devil’s cup
Slowly, it’s taking over me

An easy link to make, I chose this pretty arsenic bottle. Although potentially highly poisonous, arsenic was used as a component in a range of treatments for many centuries.

Used in a pharmacist’s shop, this blue glass bottle is ridged, so the user would know by touch that its contents were poisonous if given in large doses. Coloured glass was also used to indicate poisons. 

L0057809 Blue ridged glass bottle for arsenic, Europe, 1701-1935

Toxic? Yes. Addictive? Unclear. Arsenic bottle.

Shadow

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

I’m not sure the lyrics below were meant to be quite as macabre as the collection item they reminded me of.

It’s only your shadow
Never yourself
It’s only your shadow
Nobody else
It’s only your shadow
Filling the room
Arriving too late
And leaving too soon

For these lyrics I chose this pen and ink drawing by Joyce Cutler Shaw. On her website, Shaw explains “The skeleton and its shadows, the most durable and ephemeral traces of the human body, evoke the hidden and mysterious self.”

L0027998 A skeleton and its shadow. Pen and ink drawing by Joyce Cutl

One of the “Skeletons and Shadows” drawings by Joyce Cutler Shaw.

Everytime

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

A more mature and melancholy song written by Britney, “Everytime” is simple and fragile.

And everytime I see you in my dreams
I see your face, it’s haunting me

Our current exhibition, ‘States of Mind‘, explores the edges of consciousness. The lines above vividly brought to mind one of the pieces in the show used to explore sleep paralysis.

V0016638 A perturbed young woman fast asleep

A perturbed young woman fast asleep with a devil sitting on her chest.

Touch of my hand

Album In The Zone
Year 2003
Listen

I’m not sure this song needs much of an introduction.

I love myself
It’s not a sin
I can’t control what’s happenin’
‘Cause I just discovered
Imagination’s taking over
Another day without a lover
The more I come to understand
The touch of my hand

We have quite a lot of masturbation-related material, mainly in the form of anti-masturbation objects, but I’ve chosen the one below instead. We’ve written previously about the contemporary rumours of doctors in the 19th century treating women for hysteria with vibrators. I won’t repeat that here, but you can read it here.

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Photograph of the a young woman using a ‘Sanofix’ Electric Vibrator.

Mannequin

Album Circus
Year 2008
Listen

I had never looked in our collections for anything relating to mannequins, so when I remembered this song I was excited about what I’d find. I wasn’t disappointed.

You can cry your eyes out of your head,
Baby, baby,
I don’t care, I don’t care,
You can cry-cry-cry again-gain-gain,
My face like a mannequin

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mannequin that isn’t in some way sinister. Even this one used as a teaching tool manages to have something very disconcerting about it.

V0015256 Nurses being lectured on bandaging using a mannequin on a ho

Nurses being lectured on bandaging using a mannequin on a hospital ward.

Perfume

Album Britney Jean
Year 2013
Listen

Britney has a hugely successful range of perfumes. She endorsed her first one back in 2004: Elizabeth Arden’s “Curious”. (Incurably curious?) It became Elizabeth Arden’s top selling fragrance worldwide. By 2013 her fragrances had grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide and a bottle was sold every 15 seconds. No wonder her last album featured a song about it.

And while I wait I put on my perfume, yeah I want it all over you
I gotta mark my territory

From the 1700s onwards Paris was at the centre of the perfume and cologne business. At a time when most people did little to hide their ‘natural odours’, some who could afford it used eau de cologne as part of their personal hygiene routines.

L0057441 Glass bottle for eau de cologne, Paris, France, 1780-1850

Glass bottle for eau de cologne, Paris.

 Liar

Album Glory
Year 2016

A blues-tinged song from Britney’s new album, the lyrics below reminded me of a project relating to our ‘States of Mind’ exhibition. Called Sleep Stories, we asked our audience to share with us their stories relating to sleep (such as sleep talking, sleep paralysis, etc.). These were then embroidered and pieced together to form a quilt.

I hear you all night talk in your sleep
Saying all kind of things but none of them read
Keeping secrets under your sheets

The quilt below was created using our audience’s stories, but it was also visitors that did all the work over ten weeks. We are developing a digital version of the quilt that will allow you to zoom up close to the individual pieces and find out more about the stories behind them.

Small-quilt

The quilt we created with our visitors and online audiences.

So there we have it. I hope this jaunt through our collections via a selection of random Britney Spears lyrics was enjoyable. It made me aware of just how much anatomy/psychology features in songs: hearts, veins, minds, dreams, eyes, hands, bodies, breathing and more. But maybe that’s a future post…

In the meantime, remember you can wrap your ears around Glory from today!

Britney-Spears-gifs-britney-spears what u waiting for

Russell is the Web Editor for Wellcome Collection and an unashamed fan of Godney.

Voicings

We invited artists to programme or perform live vocalisations in the ‘THIS IS A VOICE‘ gallery space over the show’s run (exhibition closes 31 July). These daily events offered an intimate, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the mechanics of voice production and vocal exercises. Elissavet Ntoulia reflects on this unorthodox programme of events. 

59 live performances over 10 weeks by 9 artists inside ‘THIS IS A VOICE‘ exhibition: Voicings can officially go down in Wellcome Collection’s exhibition history as the first programme of daily live performances.

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Meredith Monk’s Ascension Variations (2009) in New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

Although performance in museums is not new, the recent opening of the new Tate Modern has shown yet again how performance has been gaining ground recently in big institutions. It can vary from large scale, all-building occupations like Meredith Monk’s (whose work also features in ‘THIS IS A VOICE’) Ascension Variations (2009) in New York’s Guggenheim, to in-gallery performances like that of the work of choreographer Merce Cunningham in Barbican’s ‘The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns’ exhibition (2013). Performance art of any kind and scale has also been seen by institutions as adding value towards their effort for creating unique visitor experiences and offering increased opportunities for interaction and participation. Continue reading

How we created the soundtrack for the THIS IS A VOICE trailer

Producing trailers for Wellcome Collection often involves hunting around for that perfect music track to cut to. Some are thoughtful; some are more downbeat. All are essential for conveying the mood of the show. Our Multimedia Producer Chris Chapman speaks to artist David Toop about creating a distinctive soundtrack for one of our current exhibitions.

THIS IS A VOICE‘ was always going to be different. I knew the soundtrack needed to be something very human, but also quite unusual. Our music library certainly wasn’t the place to look.

After chatting to exhibition curator, Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz, I discovered that David Toop was due to host one of the Voicings events during the exhibition. He had been one of the original members of The Flying Lizards, an experimental 1980s art-rock group, with hits such as ‘Money’ and ‘TV’.

As well as an established author and the Chair of Audio Culture at London College of Communication, David continues to produce and perform experimental music, much of it based on vocalisations. After an introduction over a cup of tea, David was on board. Continue reading

Two voices from one: folk singing from around the world

Video: Singing with two voices. An interview with Dessi Stefanova of the London Bulgarian Choir

When I first heard the London Bulgarian Choir I knew it would be really interesting to find out how they create that incredible sound. In a quite different way to the more operatic “bel canto” style of singing, they are able to create a very powerful, bright sound which includes some unusual effects and ornamentation. Dessi Stefanova, founder and leader of the London Bulgarian choir, graciously agreed to be interviewed on the subject. Experienced in teaching non-Bulgarians how to change their voice to produce this sort of singing style, she was able to explain exactly what she’s doing with her throat in singing – creating a “twanging” sound she likens to a seagull or bagpipe.

Making this film was enlightening. Though I’ve always enjoyed singing, I had no idea it was possible to think about it in this level of anatomical detail and to control it in this way. Discussion of the harmonics was particularly fascinating. I guess I knew in some sense that one note is in fact made up of several notes, harmonics, at once, but hearing Dessi sing makes it clear. Her voice style amplifies certain of those harmonics to create an effect like two voices singing from one. It’s not quite as marked as that of Mongolian or Tuvan throat singing (“overtone” singing), but it’s there.

Whilst I was preparing for the film, Dessi directed Alex and I to a BBC radio show on the human voice which she’d been a part of. I recommend a listen (it’s called Discovery – Musical Instruments 1 from December 2010). It even tells you how to get the overtone effect in your voice. In a bit I sadly had to cut from my film, Dessi also talked about other folk styles which use this, including a Sardinian style: singing “a tenore”.

The Unesco film above turned out to be just one of a series which led me off into a wonderful journey of discovery, in particular introducing me to various traditions of polyphonic singing (e.g. Georgian or the Aka pygmies of central Africa). Absolutely fascinating.

Dessi and the London Bulgarian Choir will be appearing at our Get Mouthy! event on Friday 30 September.

Laid to Rest: The final procession

Laid to rest: the final procession. Serena Korda

Laid to rest: the final procession. Serena Korda

Over the past six months, Serena Korda‘s Laid to Rest project has involved the assembly of a large pallet of bricks containing everyday household dust, as part of our Dirt exhibition. This Sunday, it all ends with the ceremonial procession and burial of the bricks – and you’re invited. Serena explains how a very dirty job is coming to an end…

“Dust, Dust, Dust ah ah ah ahaaaaaaa,” the mythical marching band sing in a frenzied chant over the brick stack at the centre of Laid to Rest. Their hysteria highlights the absurdist procedure of collecting 500 dust samples from people, places and institutions around the world. The collection process has been immense and at times grueling, challenging my own latent obsessive compulsive disorder. Realising that however romantic dust seems (so often used by artists as a signifier for memory, transience and mortality), when you are collecting other people’s it becomes like any other kind of dirt, creating the same human response of repulsion. At the beginning people thought I was pulling their leg, phoning up to see if I could come dust their institution and make it into a brick. Then people started sending in donations from as far away as Peru and Canada. Their contents varied from everyday household dust to loved ones’ ashes, making the process of mixing the donations in to the clay one of commemoration and ritual.

Now we have arrived at the finale of Laid to Rest. This is the celebration of a very collective experience, from dust collection, to firing the bricks, to presenting them at the Wellcome Collection during Dirt. I hope that you will join me to witness the procession and burial of the brick stack. Follow the mythical marching band, dancers and heavy horses as they travel from Wellcome Collection to Brunswick Square Gardens Bloomsbury, where a layer of the bricks will be ceremoniously buried.

There will be 300 limited edition commemorative publications, including the ‘Laid to Rest’ soundtrack on 12” vinyl, to give away.

Please meet us on the corner of Endsleigh Gardens and Taviton Street, NW1 (just behind the Wellcome Collection — see this Google map), for the start of the procession at 3pm this Sunday 18 September 2011.

Serena Korda’s Laid to Rest was funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of the Dirt Season. Find out more about Serena’s work on her website: www.serenakorda.com.

Stretching a point

Didier Fiuza-Faustino, from (G)Host in the (S)Hell, 21' 26"

Didier Fiuza-Faustino, from (G)Host in the (S)Hell, 21' 26"

As part of our current Skin exhibition, we’re putting on a series of events dedicated to the science and art of the human skin, showing that skin deep is deeper than you think. On the 9th September we’ll be presenting Treats on Elasticity, presented by the Pars foundation (aka Astrid van Baalen & Hester Aardse).

The event is born out of their latest published work, the second volume in the Atlas of Creative Thinking, Findings on Elasticity, following on from their earlier Findings on Ice. It’s a multidisciplinary approach to the subject of stretching, featuring artists, scientists and musicians.

It’s a mind-bending and wonderful collection: in it you’ll find a paean to the pleasure of finding a mathematical lemma, or proof, relating to the elasticity of an imaginary rod wrapped around an imaginary cylinder; a geologist discussing how to model the elasticity of the earth’s crust and Ioana Ieronim’s Ditty for One String, an ode to the elasticity that produces the vibrations that make music. We also find out why elasticity is not necessarily a good thing in a spider’s web (a hungry arachnid doesn’t want to see her fly bouncing off like a trampolinist), and why, at the quantum level, space and time themselves are elastic (likened by physicist John Wheeler to bath foam).

If you want to bone up beforehand, you can buy the book; or simply broaden your horizons at the event itself.

Quacks and Cures: A New Improved Remedy!

A quack doctor, John Doyle. Wellcome Images

A quack doctor, John Doyle. Wellcome Images

A FREE EVENT curated by ALEX JULYAN at WELLCOME COLLECTION, LONDON

AN EVENING OF EFFICACIOUS, MEDICINAL REMEDIES.

AT NO EXPENSE TO YOURSELVES WITNESS THE DEMONSTRATION OF CURES FOR ALL AGUES. MORE ESPECIALLY BY MEANS OF EXCELLENT, NECESSARY AND USEFUL ADVICE FROM EXPERTS OF ALL KINDS.

THIS EVENT GIVES INSTANT RELIEF. ASK FOR NO OTHER!

QUACKS AND CURES: A NEW IMPROVED FORMULA

FRIDAY 4 JUNE 19.00-23.00

At no expense to yourselves we invite you to MEET THE DOCTORS in an entertaining and enlightening mix of opinions and approaches. From QUACKERY to comedy, self-diagnosis to SCIENCE, witness through demonstration and discussion CURES FOR ALL AGUES. Dispense with suffering as you attest to the benefits of RESTORATIVE treatments and discover your own powers of RECOVERY by means of excellent, necessary and useful advice from EXPERTS of all kinds.

Back by popular demand this event is living proof that the public take their health very seriously, even if at times the performers do not. The huge success of last year’s event will have some tried and tested remedies and groundbreaking new treatments. This unique evening of diagnosis and cure offers four floors of entertaining and informative medical enlightenment. Dr Gripenerve our resident Quack Doctor will again be on hand to offer advice to cure all agues, aided by the Quack band and irked by herbal vendors. He may recommend bloodletting, but our live leeches have returned to cure you of your curiosity if not your fainting fits.

For more helpful advice (and a charming nurse) you can visit the doctors’ surgery and meet the 18th-century, Edwardian and contemporary physicians. Last years popular recommendations included holding a warm puppy to the  stomach to cure an ache, or a placing a leech up each nostril to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever (make sure you hold onto their tails!). If these remedies don’t appeal, but a good dose of nostalgia does, Government Public Information Films provide the voice of reason, or perhaps you’d like to contribute your own remedy handed down through the generations – we have a great collection from last year, some of which might work.

Not forgetting the primary organ there will be some mentally stimulating additions including a herbalist who’s all at sea with cures used in battle, or an historical journey through the therapeutic Spas and Wells of London. Does any of this work?  An expert panel will be examining the evidence and will no doubt disagree in the timeworn manner.

We won’t let you leave without a guaranteed cure! Medicine Jack and Dr Rhubarb will once again treat your nerves with soothing Quack songs from the Wellcome Library and encourage your recovery with a rousing chorus or two as you find your own particular restorative at the bar.

Pressure Drop: Underneath the Arches

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In the second of our two clips from the Pressure Drop rehearsals, Nana (played by June Watson) and Ron (Pip Donaghy) share a musical moment in the church.

Pressure Drop: Reunited at the Brit

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In this first of two clips from the Pressure Drop rehearsals, John (played by Justin Salinger) is reunited with his brother Jack (Michael Gould) and old friend Tony (David Kennedy) at the Brit pub, as they reminisce about the old days.