Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always enjoyed tuning into crime TV shows like CSI and Without a Trace. As I grew older, I continued with Dexter and was brought into the world of blood splatter analysis. What I almost always noticed watching each episode, was that the use of terminology used by forensic experts went over my head. All I ever cared about was the chase to find the guilty. I never understood the importance of the investigation or why something was being dipped into a dye. So the Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition on forensics provided me with the chance to finally get some sense of the methodology, ideas and practices behind forensic medicine and how the bad guys (and girls) were caught.
With 5 rooms to peruse, I was quickly absorbed into the world of real life cases and the instruments used to collect the evidence. Ever heard of Kusozu? Naa, me neither. I discovered these Japanese watercolour paintings depicting human decomposition. I also learned about the early techniques used to take photographs of crime scenes including ‘God’s eye view’ developed by French photographer, Alphonse Bertillon, whereby photos were taken overhead. Another interesting figure was Arthur Fellig better known as ‘Weegee’ who was always the first to arrive at crime scenes before reporters and sometimes the police. Other pieces of art out on display by curators included Teresa Margolles’ ‘105 ceramic tiles and concerete floor’ – a piece of floor on which Teresa’s friend had been murdered. Angela Strassheim’s work called ‘Evidence No.1’ also stood out, depicting the use of bluestar solution in revealing bloodstains. What struck me from her work was the idea of showing new owners and tenants that there is history behind the residence. We could all be living at a place where something significant could have happened.
Other fascinating work included seeing maggots taken from the bodies of Buck Ruxtons’ victims, the case known as the Moffat murders, well known for being solved through the use of forensic entomology. Be prepared to discover the world of blowflies, the history of the mortuary and seeing the post-mortem table used at Rotherhithe Mortuary till 1944. I was shocked to see fractured skills, stabbed livers and entry and exit wounds of a scalp – each telling a different story. One of the most moving videos I ended up watching was on the search by women for the remains of their loved ones in the Atacama Desert. One of the most driest places in the world, the Chilean army killed political prisoners and buried the bodies under General Augusto Pinochet after the military coup of September 1973. Through the video, I was able to understand how important it is for loved ones to have physical evidence of a body to essentially ‘let go.’
Through art, installations, videos and audio, the exhibition truly gets you thinking about the history and importance of forensic medicine in serving justice and bringing comfort and answers to loved ones. It also made me think that not all methods early on would have been accurate enough to justify the execution of someone. Through pioneering technology in the 21st century with genetic fingerprinting, there’s not a shred of doubt. But with earlier techniques, mistakes were picked up questioning the reliability of techniques. I especially liked the way in which the exhibition guides you through the advancements using real life cases, to give you a better understanding of how the field of forensics has stepped up.
A thought-provoking exhibition, get off at Euston station and spend 2 hours at Forensics: The anatomy of a crime. I give this a 3.5 star rating out of 5.