Jason and the Adventure of 254

Wellcome Collection's new exhibition

Rebecca Wallersteiner takes at look at Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition Jason and the Adventure of 254, an artist’s joyful exploration of becoming disabled as a child.

Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition Jason and the Adventure of 254, is a major solo show of exuberant, kaleidoscopically-colourful artworks by artist Jason Wilsher-Mills, curated by Shamita Sharmacharja and an exploration of becoming disabled as a child, based on the artist’s own experience. Wilsher-Mills’s says, “The work is like a form of time travel, where you can still experience something you felt, or thought as a child. For me the hospital is not just about trauma, if it is at all. It’s about the opportunity which was afforded to me through education and support from my family. The show is about childhood, family, but it’s also about how creativity works and where it comes from.”

Reimagining the gallery space as a hospital ward, Wilsher-Mills’ immersive joyful and humorous installation of interactive sculptures and illustrations challenge perceptions around disabilitiy, medicine and the human body. The exhibition delves into the transformative moment of the artist’s diagnosis of an autoimmune condition, triggered by contracting chickenpox at the age of eleven. Paralysed from the neck down until the age of sixteen and unable to physically explore the wider world around him, the artist came to inhabit and interior world filled with action heroes, TV shows, films, comics, books and his own vivid imagination.

Born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, Jason Wilsher-Mills is the son of a coal miner and the youngest of eight children, who grew up on council estates. He was the first in his family to go to university and studied painting at the Cardiff School of Art and Design.

The exhibition’s tile alludes to to 2.54pm at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, on 1 August 1980 when Wilsher-Mills witnessed his parents being told of his diagnosis at the end of his hospital bed. He can pinpoint this exact moment in time as it coincided with British athlete Sebastian Coe winning the gold medal in the 1500m race at the 1980 Summer Olympics, which was being shown on the ward’s TV at the same time. In the exhibition, visitors will step into the physical manifestation of this memory, encountering a rather surreal, mesmerising dreamscape where a monumental figure lies in a hospital bed watching TV, surrounded by oversized plastic toy soldiers delivering the virus, inflatable germs that hang in the air and a 30-metre illustrative wallpaper depicting significant episodes from the artist’s life.

The exhibition also features a series of nine lightbox dioramas which distil Wilsher-Mills’ childhood memories of this time, both before and after his diagnosis. Throughout the space, visitors will be invited to activate different scenes inspired by his working class background and his experience as a young person. In Mum as Mermaid (2024) the artist recalls a family holiday to the seaside where he imagined his mother as a mermaid surrounded by bioluminescent jellyfish, whilst Hippo Scare (2024) depicts a childhood encounter with a hippopotamus at a zoo in Manchester, which Wilsher-Mills credits with the beginning of his creative awakening as an artist.

Collection. Alongside the exhibition, Wilsher-Mills will take over Wellcome Collection’s atrium from 20 May to 8 September 2024 with works from the series, Jason and his Argonauts. This will include his monumental sculpture I am an Argonaut (2021). Originally installed in Folkestone and taking inspiration from William Harvey (1578-1657), the Royal Physician credited with the first description of the human circulatory system, the work is a reflection of Wilsher-Mills’ own experience of disability.

Internationally acclaimed, Wilsher-Mills has exhibited at The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, among other international venues and the Houses of Parliament. He is the winner of the 2020 Adam Reynolds Award and was awarded second place, for visual & performing arts, on the Shaw Trust Disability power list for 2023-2024. Don’t miss seeing this uplifting exhibition.

Jason and the Adventure of 254 Wellcome Collection, London until 12th January 2025,

183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE; tel. 0207 611 2222

Gallery opening hours Mon- Gallery closed; Tues & Wed 10am – 6pm; Thurs 10am -10pm; Fri & Sat – 10am-6pm Entry is free and will be accompanied by a programme of free events http://wellcomecollection.org

Latest posts by Rebecca Wallersteiner (see all)
Rebecca Wallersteiner: Rebecca Wallersteiner is a health and arts journalist, who writes for The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, NetDoctor, Telegraph, The Times, Traveller and The Oldie magazines. She also works for the NHS and is the Hippocratic Post's roving reporter.

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