In conversation with natural history–'Our Spectral Vision' by Liz West
'Our Spectral Vision' is a light installation by British Artist Liz West, created for the exhibition 'Colour and Vision: Through the Eyes of Nature', at the Natural History Museum in London, UK.
There are many aspects of Our Spectral Vision that may appeal to you, and catch your eye first, as you move towards it. It could be the sharp, clean forms– rich, slices almost, of colour. It could be the prismatic qualities of the seven forms, bringing depth and a sense of contemplation with them.
Perhaps the fundamental idea and inspiration behind the installation would intrigue you– an interpretation of Issac Newton’s experiment with disassembling and reassembling white light into the visible color spectrum, using prisms.
It might also be the overwhelming, and immersive experience and awareness of colour and light, something that is signature to artist Liz West's work. This immediate and yet lingering impact of luminous colors and radiant light will likely stay with you, long after you exit the darker interiors of the installation space.
But there is one aspect of the installation you would sense only as you step out, into the larger context of the exhibition it is part of– Colour and Vision: Through the Eyes of Nature, at the Natural History Museum in London, UK. Through 350 rare specimens of natural organisms– insects, birds, butterflies, and fossils– the exhibition narrates 565 million years of optical history, illuminating the birth of eyesight and color. Our Spectral Vision speaks to this collection of specimens, and to this narrative. Liz says: “The iridescent patterns and colourings present on the birds, insects, and animals in the Natural History Museum collection has inspired the variety and selection of colours in this artwork. The science behind the natural processes of color researched here at the Museum has provided the backbone for my work.”
In turn, her installation is what marks the beginning of this beautiful exhibition and the makes for the first experience that visitors will have. In that role, it wows and excites viewers, and captures their attention, making them suddenly, and acutely aware of colour and light. This sets them up to be conscious and receptive to the many learnings and experiences of colour and vision and their history; that lie ahead in the exhibition.
When we last spoke with Liz and featured her work (Article link below), she was preparing for this project, and shared with us, her vision for it. Dichroic glass–A material that Liz has longed to work with, till now, takes center stage here in Our Spectral Vision. It forms the 2.2 m tall prismatic faces that wrap around the white LED tubes. Interestingly, Dichroic glass, which shows different colors by undergoing a color change in certain lighting conditions and responds to your angle of viewing it, has certain qualities that resonate with organisms like butterflies. Like the iridescent wings of some specimens in the exhibition, the Dichroic glass reflects light from its surfaces and its layers (glass and micro-layers of metals or oxides ), rather than through pigment.
Do watch this beautiful video below, showing Liz's development process for this installation, as well as read our first article about her larger body of work!