An exhibition about the 95% of the universe that can’t be seen is a challenging topic for any gallery to take on.
Just how do you show something that is not just invisible to human eyes, but apart from its effect on nature, invisible to the most sophisticated machines mankind has invented?
The Science Gallery has attempted this with its usual mix of art in rooms and science on the walls.
One of the core conundrums is that science isn’t sure even if dark matter exists, only that their equations suggest it should. And it might not be dark either — that’s just its brandname.
In essence, they think that dark matter makes up about 25% of the universe, and dark energy makes up 70% of the rest, leaving the entire visible and knowable universe accounting for just 5% of what’s out there.
Although dark matter and energy have never been detected, they leave evidence of their existence in how they affect the known universe — in how galaxies spin faster than they should, how gravity seems stronger than it should be in ways that suggest there’s a lot of “something” out there holding the visible universe together.
An exhibition then is a display of emptiness.
An empty glass box that theory suggests contains around 5,400 particles of dark matter within.
The box is there to ask a question about ownership — if you buy the box, do you own the dark matter within, even though it cannot be proven to exist. What happens if you pay for 5,400 particles of dark matter and get more, or less than expected?
A glass jar containing air from a lab is, well, a bit odd.
A wall showing off islands that don’t exist but were thought to is really interesting and informative, but dark matter? Hmm, not sure about that.
In the middle, a vast mirrored cube, and a sign on the entrance warned to mind you head when entering, so I not unreasonably presumed something might be hit if you’re very tall. Slowly walking in to a dark room with hand above my head to detect a barrier, and smashed my nose on something very large, very heavy, and very black, hanging in the room.
Stumbling out in quite a bit of pain, and cursed the stupidity of that so-called display.
As an exhibition it’s a bit hit and miss.
The glass cube posed some interesting questions without being patronizing. The glass jar was, well, plain weird. The 3D video fun. The cartoon section was informative. The maps pleasing, if odd.
The black room was dangerous.
But do look at the stars on the wall, they stare back at you.