Misbehaving Bodies

A major Wellcome Collection exhibition of work by artists Oreet Ashery and Jo Spence that explores the representation of chronic illness in society.

Influential photographer Jo Spence’s (1934-1992) work documents her diagnosis of breast cancer and subsequent healthcare regime throughout the 1980s. Her raw and confrontational photographs are displayed alongside Oreet Ashery’s (1966-) award-winning mini-series Revisiting Genesis, 2016, which explores death and dying in the digital era. Through their work, the exhibition foregrounds health diversity and challenges our understanding of ‘untypical’ bodies, reflecting on how illness can disrupt and shape the way we think about the body, family and identity. Together the artists question how we look beyond a patient’s diagnosis and articulate a more complex understanding of illness and life-limiting conditions.

David Kohn Architects’s exhibition design begins by addressing the often clinical environment of white cube gallery spaces. The walls of the Wellcome gallery are draped in coloured and tie-dyed fabrics to create a more provisional and intimate interior. The experience of the exhibition is intended to disrupt visitors’ expectations of art exhibitions and offer a welcoming and comfortable setting for the display of what is at times challenging work.

Tent-like booths of tie-dye fabrics provide smaller spaces within the show to view Ashery’s films while soft furnishings invite visitors to spend time contemplating the work and processing the emotional content. The fabric walls and carpeted floors also achieve a soft acoustic which contributes to the atmosphere of the room.

As the exhibition design evolved through conversations with Oreet Ashery and the curator George Vasey, an approach emerged that seeks to establish dialogue between the two artists’ work and convey the black humour with which they treat the subject matter. Tombstone-like white piers support Jo Spence’s photographs while her name in block capitals form a table plinth. In response, Oreet’s name in script font cut from polished brass hangs on chains from the ceiling like a necklace.

Exhibition Design

Wellcome Collection, London

Wellcome Collection

  • Size
  • 370m2

  • Status
  • Completed - Exhibition from May 2019 - January 2020

  • Design Team
    David Kohn, Jessica Lyons, Jennifer Dyne,
    Mungo Adam-Smith


    Jo Spence
    Oreet Ashery
    Mark El-khatib
    DHA Lighting Designs

    • Photography
    • Will Price