New ‘Superhuman’ exhibit chronicles the history of human enhancement — from toes to dildos

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Humans have tried to augment their capacities since the beginning of time. In many respects, the desire to overcome biological limitations is an indelible part of our species. Now, in an effort to chronicle these efforts, a new gallery has opened up in London which tracks human enhancement throughout the ages, from ancient Egyptian artificial toes, right through to cybernetics — and even dildos.

The new Wellcome Collection (running from July 19 to October 2012) is an attempt to explore the different ways that people have sought to improve, adapt, and enhance their body's performance. Its curator, Emily Sargent, has timed the release of the exhibit to co-incide with the London Olympic and Paralympic games. The ‘Superhuman' gallery contains over 100 artifacts, videos, photographs, comics, and medical objects — all of which record the various ways humans have tried to use technologies to either repair themselves or exceed human constraints.


And it's the diversity of the display items that make the exhibition particularly interesting and poignant. Sargent has included run-of-the-mill objects like glasses and false teeth, but they're also shown alongside some lesser seen artifacts like sex aids and an implant used by self-professed cyborg Kevin Warwick.


There's even a fake penis called the Whizzinator, a device meant to help athletes dodge their doping tests by delivering clean urine. The exhibit also features artworks produced with the help of athlete and double-amputee Aimee Mullins — a beautiful and surreal interpretation of prosthetic devices.

In addition, there are videos featured from prominent futurists such as Anders Sandberg, Andy Miah, and Julian Savulescu, all of whom describe where enhancement technologies may take us in the future.


Speaking through a release, Sargent notes: "Human enhancement is one of the most exciting and feared areas of modern science, where sci-fi imaginings seemingly come alive. But it is not the exclusive preserve of the contemporary technologist, as our desire to enhance ourselves and our ingenuity to do so is in evidence throughout our history."


Hallie Sekoff has posted a gallery of some of the more interesting items (careful, some NSFW items in there), so be sure to check it out.

All images via Emily Sargent/Wellcome Collection.