Jason and the Adventure of 254

Jason and the Adventure of 254
Untitled, 2023 © Jason Wilsher-Mills

Jason and the Adventure of 254
21 March 2024 – 12 January 2025
Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road

In March 2024, Wellcome Collection will present Jason and the Adventure of 254, a major solo exhibition by Jason Wilsher-Mills (b. 1969, UK). Showcasing his largest and most personal commission to date, this free exhibition will be a joyful and subversive exploration of the body, drawing on the artist’s experience of becoming disabled as a child. Reimagining the gallery space as a hospital ward, Wilsher-Mills’ immersive installation of sculptures, illustrations and interactive dioramas will challenge the cultural and societal perceptions surrounding disability, medicine and the human body.

Jason and the Adventure of 254
Boot, 2023 © Jason Wilsher-Mills

Through a kaleidoscope of colours and a touch of magic realism, the exhibition will also be a celebration of family, his working-class background and the opportunities he received through hospital education, inviting audiences to explore childhood memories and creativity through the artist’s trademark humour.

Jason and the Adventure of 254 will delve into the transformative moment of Wilsher-Mills’ 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 an interior world filled with action heroes, TV shows, films, comics, books and his own vivid imagination. The exhibition’s title alludes to 2.54pm at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, on 1 August 1980 when he 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 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.

Jason and the Adventure of 254
Untitled, 2023 © Jason Wilsher-Mills

The exhibition will also feature 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.

The installation will be supplemented by sketchbooks of pen and ink drawings – a practice Wilsher-Mills has returned to for the first time in 30 years – which are then reconfigured in layers using an iPad to become the eventual work. They are inspired by encounters with anatomical studies in Wellcome’s historic collections, which evoked memories of the artist’s own hospitalisation. After the exhibition, the sketchbooks will be acquired into Wellcome 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. It contrasts medical imagery with the social model of disability: ‘the understanding that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference’ (Scope, 2022).

Jason and the Adventure of 254
Head with virus, 2023 © Jason Wilsher-Mills

Jason Wilsher-Mills is a disabled artist born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, now living in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. The son of a coal miner, he is the youngest of eight children and grew up on council estates in Wakefield. He was the first in his family to go to university and studied painting at the Cardiff School of Art and Design.

He has exhibited and been commissioned by The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar and the Houses of Parliament, among other international venues. 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.

Jason and the Adventure of 254 is curated by Shamita Sharmacharja, Wellcome Collection Curator, and commissioned by Wellcome Collection. It will run from 21 March 2024 to 12 January 2025 and entry is free. It will be accompanied by a programme of free events and limited product editions in the Wellcome Collection Shop.

Jason and the Adventure of 254 opens on the 21st of March 2024 until the 12th of January 2025 at Wellcome Collection

©2024 Wellcome Collection

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