Sussex brains behind Wellcome Collection exhibition on consciousness

A practitioner using mesmerism. Wellcome Library

Professor Anil Seth

Neuroscientists at the University of Sussex are among the brains behind a major new exhibition on consciousness, which opens in London this week.

States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness, which is at Wellcome Collection from 4 February until 16 October 2016, explores phenomena such as sleepwalking, memory loss and what happens when we lose consciousness.

Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, has spent two years working with the exhibition’s curator, Emily Sargent, as a scientific advisor.

He said: “The appetite for understanding what is going on in our brains and bodies when we are conscious is immense. Consciousness is a deep mystery that has challenged and motivated not only scientists and philosophers, but artists, musicians and many others throughout history.

“This exhibition draws on an astounding variety of objects and artworks to show how consciousness has been represented in science, art and folklore, and it also gives visitors an opportunity to explore their own levels of consciousness through innovative interactive exhibits.”

The exhibition is divided into four sections:  SCIENCE | SOUL traces the historical emergence of the field of neuroscience through art and philosophy; SLEEP | AWAKE includes archive material from the first courtroom trial where ‘insanity of sleep’ was successfully used as a defence; LANGUAGE | MEMORY looks at how language development is closely connected to the sense of self; BEING | NOT BEING considers what happens when consciousness is disordered through trauma or injury.

Professor Seth, together with colleague Dr David Schwartzman and others from the Sackler Centre, has provided advice across all the sections, developed interactive applications that form part of the exhibition, and will also be hosting talks and events during the exhibition’s run. Professor Seth also wrote the introduction to Ann Veronica Janssen’s 12-week art installation ‘yellowbluepink’, which opened the Wellcome Collection’s exploration of consciousness in October last year.

Curator Emily Sargent said: “Consciousness is a fascinating subject, as magical as it is everyday. We all know what it is like to be conscious, but it remains a challenge to truly define it. This makes it rich territory both for artists and scientists alike.

"This exhibition examines a range of different experiences from the edges of consciousness revealing both the wonder and fragility of our internal lives. It looks at ways in which philosophy, art and folklore have established frameworks of understanding for phenomena like the nightmarish hallucinations of sleep paralysis; explores language and memory as ways of defining the self and discovers how neuroscience is pushing back the very definitions of what we understand consciousness to be in the study of patients previously thought beyond awareness. It also provides the opportunity to bring together a wonderful collection of objects, artworks and films to explore this broad, eclectic subject – at once both unique and universal.”

Notes for editors

For more information, contact the University of Sussex media relations team: Jacqui Bealing and James Hakner T + (0)1273 678888,

Wellcome Collection media contact: Emily Philippou
T +44 (0)20 7611 8726 | E

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 Wellcome Collection is the free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The newly expanded venue offers visitors contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections, lively public events, the world-renowned Wellcome Library, a café, a shop, a restaurant and conference facilities as well as publications, tours, a book prize, international and digital projects.

Wellcome Collection is part of the
Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We provide more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine.


By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Tuesday, 2 February 2016