The Guardian calls it 'a mind-expanding peepshow of nature’ while the Evening Standard asserts 'this show will change how you will see forever' – Colour and Vision at the Natural History Museum has definitely got people talking.
A breath-taking exploration of the relationship between colour and vision in nature, the exhibition will have you marvelling at colourful and unusual specimens that show the range of ways in which colour is used in the natural world – from a warning or disguise, to an irresistible invitation.
To celebrate the opening of this not-to-be-missed exhibition, we met Fiona Cole-Hamilton, the Exhibition Developer, to learn more about the making of Colour and Vision and what we should expect from this eye-opening exhibition.
Tell us a little bit about the exhibition
The exhibition follows a 565-million-year journey through nature. Visitors will witness the evolution of the image-forming eye and the explosion of diversity in form that occurred as a result.
The exhibition then invites visitors to explore the Tree of Life by traversing its branches to discover the six groups of animals with image-forming eyes, before celebrating the components of colour in a spectacular tower of specimens.
Finally, visitors will see examples of how colour is used in the natural world, before being immersed in a colourful film that encourages visitors to think about their own relationship with colour and the natural world.
Did you come across any challenges in developing the show?
Both colour and vision are enormous subjects, so choosing which areas to focus on was something of a challenge. I worked closely with Museum scientists to choose stories that we felt explained some of the key ideas in evolution, but were also exciting, visually appealing and could draw on the Museum’s rich collection.
We were also interested in creating representations of how other animals see the natural world. Little is known about this so we worked with scientists at the University of Exeter to create interpretive images based on scientific understanding of an animal’s visual system to create an interactive element that allows visitors to see through the eyes of nature.
Do you think people are naturally drawn to certain colours?
Humans work from a very similar colour spectrum, so any preference or dislike of colours is usually cultural. In nature, colours like red, black and orange often denote danger and these are occasionally adopted by humans to mean similar things; a red stop-sign, for example.
The last section of the exhibition invites visitors to consider their own relationship with colour by applying coloured tabs to words denoting feelings or actions. Already the wall is a collage of multi-coloured tabs, representing the different colour associates held by our visitors.
What have you discovered yourself working on the exhibition?
I have learnt a huge amount working on this exhibition! I didn’t know that the image-forming eye could evolve so quickly (within as little as half a million years) or that some colours can survive for millions of years. I find it incredible that only six of the Tree of Life’s roughly 38 branches have animals with image-forming eyes, yet 96% of all known species are found within these branches.
I think the most fascinating thing I’ve discovered is the inextricable link between colour and vision in evolution. Before the eye had evolved, colour might have existed but it would likely have been a by-product of something else – structural colour strengthening a shell, for example – but once the eye evolved, suddenly colour meant the difference between life and death, and it diversified as a result.
What’s your favourite colour?
Red is my favourite colour. I love its boldness and think a touch of red amongst more muted shades can be really striking. We worked with an artist called Neil Harbisson for the exhibition’s immersive film because he has no colour vision at all. In order for him to be able to appreciate colour, he has had an antenna implanted into the back of his skull that turns light waves into sound waves, so he is able to hear colour. Neil says he finds red to be the most peaceful colour, because it has a low frequency.
Colour and Vision at the Natural History Museum is supported by lead sponsor LG OLED TV. To celebrate this exhibition, The Conran Shop and the Natural History Museum are offering you the chance to win a pair of tickets to see Colour and Vision, a night’s stay at a 4-star hotel in London and £250 worth of Paint by Conran paint. Click here to enter our competition.
Top image: Our Spectral Vision by Liz West ® Trustees of NHM, London