I must confess I have been meaning to visit this exhibition for a long time. I loved the look of the advertising poster; a colourful iris, striking on a black background, made up of hundreds of different coloured museum objects. It had been peering accusingly down at me from tube adverts and bus stops for weeks. But I finally managed to find the time in exhibitions last week, and I was not disappointed.
On entering the exhibition you’re instantly greeted by a spectacularly colourful piece of modern art. Commissioned by the Natural History Museum, this artwork by Liz West invites you to immerse yourself in colours. It’s bright and inviting and alongside it on the floor, text introduces you to some questions regarding colour that are investigated within the exhibition; such as ‘what is the benefit of colour?’.
The first part of the exhibition investigates the development of eyes, first introducing fossils from thousands of years ago. Many of these fossils were in cases that protruded from the wall and were presented on angled plinths, allowing for greater visibility of the fossilised remains. The addition of line drawn illustrations of fossilised creatures on the associated interpretation label helped to make it really clean what these now often very flat remains will have looked like alive in 3D. The use of mirrored text for Darwin’s comment about eyes taken from the ‘Origin of Species’ and the same mirroring used around the edges of protruding interpretation panels, was a clever way to manipulate light and colour.
Next was what can only be described as a wall of eyes. Hundreds of images of people’s eyes on ever-changing, eye-catching and moving screens alongside still photographs and a display of wet specimens of many different animal eyes, allows you to see a greater variation in eye size, shape and colour.
By displaying specimens with interpretation alongside an image of the animal in life and of and illustration of the formation of that specific animals eye allowed you to really clearly seem the variation between creatures. Since a picture can tell 1000 words, this method of keeping text brief, but explaining via consistent diagrams really worked well.
My favourite part of the exhibition was a circular pillar display that celebrated the colours of the animal kingdom, of creatures great and small. The colours of these beautiful animals, from butterflies to a giraffe, contrasted with the black background closed for the case, but were enhanced with images and a soundscape of birdsong and animal noises. A magnificent taxidermied peacock topped this spectacle, the colours of his feathers glistening like jewels in the low lighting, naturally dimmed to aid the conservation of colours.
There was space to consider and contemplate thoughts about what colours represent to us. You could pick up coloured squared and hang them next to the words that you most associated with those colours, which allows you to contemplate the opinions that you build based around colours.
Finally there was a reflective video, created by questioning two Natural History Museum Scientists and two Artists and superimposing their answers, which they formed in relation to their work with colour. I found the perspective of artist Neil Harbisson particularly interesting. He was born without the ability to see colour, but he has worked with doctors to create an antenna that is permanently embedded within his skull that allows him to hear colours beyond the human spectrum. His description of hearing the colours of a sunset is particularly enlightening and fascinating.
The exhibition perfectly balanced, art and science, allowing scope for contemplation and learning. Admittedly there could have been more interaction throughout the exhibition journey, but aesthetically the exhibition was beautifully curated and a pleasure to visit.
Colour and Vision is on at the Natural History Museum, London 15 July – 6 November 2016.