1. Nikola Tesla in his laboratory, 1910.

A very shocking subject

Electricity is a mysterious force that no one really understands, yet almost everyone takes for granted. Now, it is the subject of an intriguing exhibition at the Wellcome Collection. From an ancient Greek amber frog and electric eels to power stations and the structure of the atom, Electricity: The spark of life traces the history of this life-changing source of power which we have harnessed, but not entirely tamed.

For centuries electricity has captivated inventors, scientists and artists, and has transformed the modern world. From the first breath of Frankenstein's monster ('It's alive!' It's alive!') to the brutal simplicity of the execution chair, this show looks at the contradictory life-giving and death-dealing extremes generated by electricity, and tells the story of how humanity, with the aid of Ferranti and Tesla among others, has tried to understand, unlock and control this invisible, yet all-encompassing, force.


2. An electrifying advertisement for Chanteclair Embrocation, 1910, Michel Liebeaux.


Electricity takes its name from elektron, the ancient Greek word for amber (hence the frog); Pliny refers to the electrostatic properties of amber and the frog appears again in works by two of the three specially commissioned contemporary artists who were asked to create new pieces for the exhibition. In his simulation X. Iaevis (Spacelab) 2017, the Irish artist John Gerrard took inspiration from Luigi Galvani's 18th-century experiments into bioelectricity but, instead of using amputated frogs' legs, he put an intact African clawed frog (Xenopus Iaevis) centre stage in zero-gravity on a simulation of the space shuttle Endeavour.

In Camille Henrot's installation January 2017 Horoscope, she has crafted a zoetrope in which a frog, a Cardinal butterfly and other creatures (made from electricity bills) are perpetually animated. This examines the relationship between technology and the environment and human beings.

Using an array of more than 100 diverse objects – from electro-static generators to radiographs, photographs, paintings, books, models and films – Electricity: The spark of life covers every aspect of our
lives that have been illuminated, animated or shocked by this invisible force.
Lindsay Fulcher


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