The Radiance Below

Something I saw in a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine led me to vicariously visit a world of darkness many, many leagues under the sea, a place where organisms subsist by way of a reactive chemical process that allows them to navigate their way through existence in the blackest of environments.

Bioluminescence, as it’s known, results in various forms of marine life emitting light, often glowing in colorful, beautiful patterns, as a means of adapting to the harsh circumstances of survival without benefit of the sun.

A real-life ctenophore (comb jelly), in full glory

Artist Shih Chieh Huang, a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow, was clearly captivated by the concept of bioluminescence, and his inspiration is displayed in The Bright Beneath, left, an exhibition currently on view at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Working closely with museum scientists, and with access to a collection of millions of specimens for research, Huang created a mix of lights, computer parts, plastic tubes, and other assorted items, that are an artistic interpretation of what it might be like to encounter these complex ocean creatures, suspended amidst the dimmed lights of the gallery space.

Of course, the really spectacular light show takes place in a world far removed from that of museums (brief clip here). But projects like Huang’s remind again of the creative bond shared by the spheres of art and science. (The Bright Beneath is at the Museum of Natural History through January 8.)


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