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REVIEW: Jason and the Adventure of 254

Updated: May 30

Artist Jason Wilsher-Mills was a regular working class kid from Wakefield. A bout of chickenpox in 1980, when he was eleven, changed his life. The virus attacked his nervous system and he was hospitalised, paralysed from the neck down and told he would not survive to adulthood. He learnt to paint while in hospital, holding the brush with his mouth. He was in hospital for over a year but proved the doctors wrong. He is still wheelchair-bound but has the use of his upper limbs and has become a successful artist.

In this free show at the Wellcome Collection, Jason revisits the year he spent in hospital. Make sure you watch the short video with him before you go into the large exhibition space – his straightforward Yorkshire voice will appeal to kids and gives some context to what comes next. An enormous hospital bed dominates the room, Wilsher-Mills (or at least a strange, comic book version of him) is lying in it, watching TV - since that is what he remembers doing most of the time. The TV screen is coming out of Seb Coe's head as he runs towards Jason, winning Olympic gold. (He did this at 2.54pm on the day that Jason heard the doctor tell his parents he was going to die. And his bib number is 254. Spooky, eh?) There are giant, brightly coloured legs in callipers. There are toy soldiers marching towards the bed, holding viruses. More viruses are suspended from the ceiling. Visually, imagine Grayson Perry meets Philip Guston via the Beano. It is a crazy, trippy dream and it is brilliant. Round the outside of the room, there is a timeline of key events from 1980, interposed with arcade style dioramas, reminiscent of seaside England, each telling a story or anecdote about his life at the time. Totally family-friendly, you are encouraged to touch, interact, play with everything on display. It is funny, thought-provoking and uplifting. Suitable for all ages.

Jason and the Adventure of 254 Wellcome Collection, 21 March 2i024–12 Jan 2025. Free.

At 6.30pm on 21 and 22 May, Jason will be in conversation with curator Shamita Sharmacharja about the show. Click here for details and to book free tickets.


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