February 18, 2019

Last chance | Experience Life in the Dark at the Natural History Museum

Part science. Part art. Total immersion. We knew this exhibition in the Natural History Museum would be strange, but how strange exactly? Cue Mexican blind fish, boa vision, a bat cave smell-o-gram, and a bioluminescent descent into the depths of the ocean. Just another morning in the NHM.

In the NHM’s own words, Life in the Dark is a chance to “meet the creatures that thrive at night, in pitch-black caves and deep in the sea.” The first creatures we met were of the fantastical forest variety; stuffed foxes and owls, badgers and dormice. The further we stepped into this nocturnal world, however, the stranger our company grew; think tarsiers and aye-ayes, flying foxes and kiwis, and a giant anteater. After navigating this nighttime forest, we wound through cave systems, continuing downwards and finishing on the deep-sea floor.

A multi-sensory learning experience

Life in the Dark expertly blends education with entertainment, demystifying the nocturnal world with clear and concise notes interspersed with interactive activities. It calls upon the senses too. Take a dark hole with the ominous written instruction: “Stick your hands inside”. The brave were rewarded with a tickle, experiencing how hazel dormice (the only dormouse species native to Britain) use hypersensitive whiskers to navigate the nightscape. We were also invited to smell the distinctive aromas of a bat cave, listen to a symphony of nighttime cries and croaks, and see our infrared selves through the eyes of a cave boa.

Immersive light art

Despite its name, Life in the Dark is a masterclass in light. Given our extensive lighting experience at Point 6, we’re always excited to see how lighting designers meet unique challenges. Jason Bruges Studio was commissioned to create a series of three installations for the exhibition, which don’t disappoint. After winding though the multi-layered forest area, you enter the bat cave, which combines custom controlled LEDs and shadow play to replicate a colony of flying bats overhead. It was no surprise to learn that Jason Bruges Studio was recognised for its work with a nomination for Best Light Art Scheme in the Low Budget category at the 2018 darc awards.

A soothing simulation of the deepest depths

Photo credit: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

The final environment is by far the most visually stunning. It uses a magical mix of multimedia and lighting effects (with over 1500 LEDs) to plunge visitors into the ocean’s depths. Lights and surfaces sparkle, breathe, and shimmer in a seemingly endless seascape littered with oddities, artefacts, and impossibly strange and wonderful sea creatures. Here, we realise just how ingenious and adaptable the sea creatures who occupy the darkest corners of our planet need to be – their survival depends on it. This underwater simulation is the exhibition’s most immersive section, beautifully mimicking a vast and awe-inspiring expanse where thoughts can breathe.

Ecological discoveries

Photo credit: Adrian Glover

The exhibition’s final room is a fitting and powerful reminder that the NHM is far more than a South Kensington tourist attraction that collects and curates. The London institute is very much an active contributor to the natural sciences that is out there in the field making genuine scientific contributions. Here, we see the latest breakthrough; the discovery of new animal species, including blind crustaceans and tube-worms, that live in deep-sea hydrothermal vents. It’s an important reminder of the unknown risks of activities like deep-sea mining and offers an understanding of how species are connected across vent fields.

Visit while you still can

The great thing about Life in the Dark is that it’s not just visually inspiring. It’s illuminating in every sense of the word. As always with the NHM, it ignites a strong sense of wonder and discovery. In revealing just how much is out there – down there – that we don’t yet know, Life in the Dark mesmerises and inspires.

So go. Encounter a vibrant, buzzing ecosystem that is equally diverse, bizarre and extraordinary while you still have the chance – it runs until 24 February 2019.

You can book your tickets on the Natural History Museum website.

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