How Can We Be Better Than We Are? Superhuman Answers These Questions and More

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How can we improve our personal best? How can we be better than we are? The Wellcome Collection’s summer exhibition, entitled Superhuman,explores physical and chemical enhancement through the ages.

i-Limb Prosthetic Hand, Image: Frances Spiegel (2012)

i-Limb Prosthetic Hand, Image: Frances Spiegel (2012), by kind permission of the Wellcome Collection

The display features more than 100 items, many from the Wellcome’s own extensive collections, plus important loans from both private individuals and public institutions. False teeth, sex aids, platform shoes and medieval artificial iron arms feature alongside hi-tech prosthetic limbs and performance enhancing drugs. Photographs, videos, comics, works of art and medical paraphernalia demonstrate the lengths to which humankind will go to improve performance.

Superhuman: Improving Human Capabilities

Superhuman makes us look at our own bodies and to consider what it means to be bigger, better, faster, and stronger with the help of science. Curator Emily Sargent explores our physical adaptability from every angle. In a recent press release, Sargent said: ″Human enhancement is one of the most exciting and feared areas of modern science, where sci-fi imaginings seemingly come alive. But it is not the exclusive preserve of the contemporary technologist, as our desire to enhance ourselves and our ingenuity to do so is in evidence throughout our history.″

Interview with Curator Emily Sargent

Decoded Science had the opportunity to interview the curator further, and asked her to discuss the challenges of this type of exhibition.

“Every exhibition throws up its own very particular challenges. One which I felt was very particular to this one was the many different potential avenues that we could have taken it. I think many people will have their own ideas of what an exhibition about human enhancement might be like, and perhaps there will be moments of this one that might take them by surprise. It’s that very aspect of the subject I think that makes it so fascinating. It has forced me to re-examine many of my own assumptions about how we live now, how we have come to this point, and the likely direction for the future.”

She also tells us that: “We are lucky to have the support of many amazing institutions and artists who have helped us with the loan of objects and artworks for the show. Some of the more ‘everyday’ objects are more tricky to arrange – the contraceptive implant, for example, had to be sent to a practising doctor before we could take delivery of it. Sensible precautions of course, but a bit unusual for us!”

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