On a recent trip to the Wellcome Collection I took the opportunity to visit the excellent permanent collections which comprise exhibitions and artwork themed around modern medicine, as well as the literal cabinet of curiosity that is Henry Wellcome’s personal collection of artefacts and medicinal aperatus.
I was fascinated by an installation on the discovery of DNA, and particularly the way in which the genetic code was recorded, as the collection houses a paper copy of the complete DNA code for one person. High shelves hold almost 100 large binders, each filled with double-sided paper, and every sheet is completely filled with the strings of letters that make up the genetic code. This exhibit is called ‘Library of the Genome’ and contains 3 billion characters which would take around 56 years to recite aloud.
I was struck by the complexity of the DNA code and was amazed that such a huge amount of it corresponded to just one person. But the most interesting aspect of the exhibit for me was the possibility that a human being could be archived like any other artefact in the Wellcome Collection. Can a person be recorded and stored through their genetic code? There is certainly something evocative about seeing DNA written down on paper, and rather than being reductive, I found the exhibit profound and elegiac.