The secrets of sight are being opened up at the Natural History Museum in London this summer. Described as a show covering 565 million years of optical history, it seeks to elucidate the origins of eyesight and colour, and how colour functions in the natural world. The show opens with an art work by Liz West entitled Our Spectral Vision, an installation that will pass light through a prism, filling the room and surrounding the viewer with the full spectrum of colours (below). There could hardly be a better introduction, as colour explodes from every corner of this 350-specimin show.
The exhibition starts with the Cambrian Period, some 541 million years ago, the point at which vision as we understand it is thought to have evolved. At this point colour became an important weapon in any creature’s armour and a vast explosion of diversity in colour and form of animals occurred. Looking at how the development of colourful markings went hand-in-hand with the development of the eye across a vast range of creatures is the key to this exhibition – and for those brave enough there is a wall of 100 eyeballs from across the animal kingdom on display to prove just how varied the tools of sight can be.
The ways in which colour is used in the natural world – a means of attracting a mate, discouraging a hungry predator or blending in with native surroundings – is thoroughly explored through some of the most strikingly beautiful (and occasionally rather creepy) specimens on show. With evening events, talks and films also running throughout the exhibition, this show sheds new light on the way we see and how the wonder of the world around us looks.
Colour and Vision is on at The Natural History Museum, London, 15 July – 6 November 2016. Visit the dedicated website for more information.