I am a sucker for a good, handmade artists book. I like pastel colours, delicate papers, and the deep blue hues of cyanotype prints. So when I joined the long queue at The Wellcome Collection’s Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime exhibition, and was handed a beautiful, dainty accompanying information booklet, I was in awe.

booklet front copy

Between the delicate pastel blues and pinks of the booklet, lay, among other things, a gory image of a dead body, photographed dramatically from above; a technical drawing of a corpse being cut open on a mortuary table; a botanical drawing of deadly nightshade. The pages are different sizes, colours, and textures of paper; each section revealing different delicate, gory pieces of evidence.

This combination of beauty, decay and science is played out like a murder mystery in the five rooms of the exhibition, each named after a different aspect of the forensic process. From ‘The Crime Scene’ to ‘The Courtroom’, the collection is made up of archival evidence, medical implements, photographs, film footage, alongside a variety of artworks.

The first piece is the striking, gory photograph from the booklet; alongside other pictures of corpses shot above; broken, and doll like, organs splattered across the floor. A dollhouse-style diorama, of a murder scene is shown around the corner from Mexican artist Teresa Margolles’ installation – a section of floor on which the her friend was shot and killed. In The Laboratory, we are shown DNA testing kits, anonymous mugshots, mysterious blue bottles of poison. There is a balance between the technical, gruesome, mysterious and personal here, all of which are aspects of death that fascinate the viewer.


Throughout each room, the exhibition is both sobering and disturbing. A cold porcelain mortuary table, sits, dimly lit in the Morgue room, complete with troughs for drainage, and scuff marks from years of use. Audio tracks of autopsies play in two sets of headphones in an isolated corner of the room; surgical implements crunch and squelch against bones and organs. An interest in death is a natural human curiosity, and here it becomes like a car crash; painful and uncomfortable, yet somehow satisfying.

This fixation with death comes in many forms, a multitude of which are explored within this exhibition. Evidence from the sensationalised Jack the Ripper case; cross sections of bullet-ridden slices of brain, bones laid out for inspection; Patricio Guzmán’s film of Chilean women trawling the desert, running their fingers through sand, searching for the bones of missing loved ones. Each aspect of the exhibition is a trace left behind after a murder. The focus is upon the fragility of life, and the body after death.


Free exhibitions have a tendency to be almost an afterthought; an abridged version. Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime however, is easy to digest, despite the gruesome subject matter. This is due to the rich mosaic of materials, which are pieced together to satiate the viewer’s morbid curiosity, and urge to discover ‘whodunnit’. The human fixation with death itself is what makes this exhibition so engaging. The macabre, car-crash parts of the collection are softened by the sensitive, personal aspects; a dichotomy of death which will forever pique the interest of humans as spectators.

Have you visited? Share your thoughts below.

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime is on at Wellcome Collection, London until 21st June 2015.