Deep within the Natural History Museum is a huge cavernous space filled with a giant floating replica of the moon.
That simple explanation is however to belittle what an exceptional experience this display is. A room with a big balloon shouldn’t be that exciting, but it really does pack a punch.
It’s not really something you contemplate or look on in considered thought — it’s oddly interactive, for something you can’t touch. People come to this darkened room, and it’s their reaction that I found most fascinating.
Just enough children running around and getting excited to fill the room with the chatter of animals and screams of birds as an approaching eclipse would in the real world.
Then all around, the “tower of Pisa” has arrived in London, in the poses people make trying to get that perfect photo of them holding the moon in their hands.
That the museum has also decoratively lit up the room, so that there’s a backdrop to put the moon against seems to lift the display upwards.
The balloon is actually a work of art, by Luke Jerram, the man who flew balloons playing whale music over London in 2011 and put pianos all over the place for people to play. And here is a space where people are allowed to play, with a glowing moon in their background.
One of the more curious aspects is that photos can’t render the moon is it is – as a globe. They all look eerily flat — highly detailed, beautiful indeed, but so flat that the moon looks like it’s a cut out that’s been glued on top of a photo. Even in the physical presence, as you wander around there’s the nagging doubt that it’s not a big balloon, but some clever optical illusion always presenting a flat circle to the viewer.
It’s a very curiously successful, and despite the yabbering of the kids, oddly peaceful experience.