Tibet’s Secret Temple: The Wellcome Collection

I love yoga and am a huge fan of old buildings and their lesser known interior decorations, so I couldn’t possibly turn down the opportunity to see an exhibition combining the two! ‘Tibet’s Secret Temple’ uses the late 17th century ‘Lukhang Temple’ as a microcosm for Buddhism and a focal point to introduce ideas about spiritual enlightenment, meditation and yoga. Hundreds of original and digitally recreated artefacts from the Dalai Lama’s private sanctuary are on display; manuscripts, drawings, architectural features, wall hangings, masks, musical instruments, wool carpets, statues, jewellery, ornaments made from human bone, meditation shawls and belts, and yogic skirts amongst others. The exhibition opens with two huge plasma screens showing different Buddhist rituals as well as the boat journey to the Temple which is situated on an island on a lake behind The Potala Palace in Tibet’s capital city of Lhasa. The next room continues to offer contextual insights into the temple, its origins, meaning and symbolism – as it was constructed to reconcile a water serpent (Lu) who appeared to the Fifth Dalai Lama during meditation and warned that the construction of The Potala Palace was disturbing his subterranean realm, but was fulfilled during the lifetime of the Sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706) who later renounced his monastic vows and used the temple as a retreat for his amorous encounters! The exhibition goes on to explore Tibetan medicine, enlightenment, the demonic divine, yoga, tantric practices, meditation and mindfulness, and closes with an entire gallery filled with life-size digitally recreated images of the north, west and east walls of the previously unseen meditation chamber. As you exit the exhibition, a last information panel optimistically discusses the current (Fourteenth) Dalai Lama’s visit to American in 1979 and subsequent scientific studies into the physical and mental benefits of the once secret yogic practices illustrated on these temple murals, which continue to be growing in popularity today.

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Alice Anderson: The Wellcome Collection

Hidden behind an unassuming black door at The Wellcome Collection is Alice Anderson’s new ‘Memory Movement Memory Objects’ exhibition. It comprises one hundred sculptures of mundane, everyday objects covered (or as the artist describes “mummified”) in copper thread, transforming them into beautiful artworks. The introduction promises that visitors will “rediscover things you already thought you knew” and when confronted with a 1976 Ford Mustang semi covered in copper thread at the entrance of the exhibition, this certainly rings true! The curation is very simple and each of the five rooms is painted either dark black or bright white forcing the copper sculptures to pop out at you. There is very little signage or printed information which encourages you to really look at and engage with the objects, and try and guess what they are from a bicycle, to keys, a pipe, tennis racket, guitar, plasma television screen, basket-ball, telephone, stethoscope, ladder, ropes suspended from floor to ceiling and more. It is easy to dismiss the skill in these sculptures, and it is only when comparing Anderson’s pieces to the Ford Mustang which the public are invited to “mummify” that you appreciate the artists’ attention to detail and thought about how light will reflect off each sculpture. Covering the objects in copper tread also shifts your understanding of them from a design perspective, as all colour and detail is removed leaving just the outline and overall shape. There is more to this exhibition than shiny, pretty things however – and Anderson’s choice of the word “mummify” to describe her use of copper thread immediately brings archaeology to mind, and raises interesting questions about how we preserve the present, how we store memories today, and with social media on the increase sinisterly observes that “our memories might soon become disembodied and live exclusively online”.

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