Press release

'Hands' event at Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection opens its doors late on 26 November for ‘Hands’ - an evening dedicated to the anatomical and cultural wonders that we carry in our pockets.

From medicine to mesmerism, magic to mannerisms, visitors will find out about the curious history of digits, palms, fingers and thumbs, and put their own to use, as we celebrate the organs that shape the world around us.

We will have scientists, artists, palmists and magicians at hand for discussions, performances and, of course, hands-on activities, all designed to make us look afresh at our body. 'Manipulate', 'manoeuvre' and 'manufacture' are all words deriving from the Latin word 'manus', meaning hand. These creative appendages allow us to make, touch and feel, but they also hold mystical and cultural significance. For one night only, visitors can explore a digital age that goes back millennia.

In auditorium talks, evolution expert Christophe Soligo will explain how we got our hands in the first place, while Chris McManus from UCL will uncover the science of left- and right-handedness. The beauty of hands will be explored through a nail bar, while Roger Kneebone and surgeons from the teaching unit at Imperial College London will be showing how hands save lives. Visitors will be able to handle surgical tools and, using specialist training aids, try them out on a friend.

Healing hands and the mystery of palms will bring together Amber Garnet, who continues a long tradition of palmistry, with the extraordinary experiments of Birkbeck's Matthew Longo, in which a simple coordination of movement can make a rubber hand feel like one's own. Also, prosthetist Ian Jones will be demonstrating the advances in replacement hands.

In the café, expect to see hand-to-hand battles over scissors-paper-stone, thumb wars and arcade game classics, as challenges to our digital dexterity are mapped over time. In the atrium there will be a piano with the soundtrack for the evening provided by visiting fingers.

Examples of handwriting written by older hands from the Wellcome Library will be on display, including the letters of Admiral Nelson before and after he lost his right hand. A palaeographer will compare the writing of different eras, and visitors will be able to try their own hand with a quill. The secrets left by their pens will be unravelled by a graphologist who will be analysing handwriting throughout the evening.

Andrew Dawson, acclaimed choreographer, performer and director, will be giving performances of 'The Articulate Hand', a mesmerising show uncovering the beauty, grace and psychological effects of hand impairment. Dawson's work has been funded by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award.

Another work produced for the event has been created by 14-19-year-olds from Holborn Community Association, Coram's Fields, King's Cross and Brunswick Neighbourhood Association with the help of artist Elaine Duigenan. They will create an immersive space filled with clapping and doodles.

Around the building there will be a sleight-of-hand magician, demonstrating how the hands can outwit the eyes. Mystery guests will be circulating with secret handshakes initiating visitors into the bonds and language of greeting.

A Lightbox display of pictures from Wellcome Images, which runs until February 2011, will lead visitors through a colourful history including Valentine Greatrakes, Franz Antoine Mesmer, sex scandals in late-Victorian massage parlours, crossed palms, fortune telling, sign language, scripts and sickness.

Visitors can also see 'High Society', Wellcome Collection's major winter exhibition, exploring the role of mind-altering drugs in history and culture. Tom Quick of UCL and Nick Barber, Professor of the Practice of Pharmacy, will be in the gallery showing how pills can be hand-made.

A feast for the fingers, and a cause for applause, 'Hands' runs at Wellcome Collection from 19.00 to 23.00 on 26 November. Entry is free. Drop in anytime.