Thursday, 31 October 2013

Brace yourself for an ice age at the Brighton Museum

by Katy Marriot.          

                                     Photographs by Adele Norris

The sound of the wind whistles from the speaker system and the display cabinets are bursting with intrigue.
“Imagine icebergs off the coast of Brighton and seas so high that the Pavilion Gardens  are underwater”, a sign reads at the entrance to the exhibition, tickling the imagination and inviting the curious to prepare for a delicious hit of knowledge.
The sci-curious should, however, freeze in their tracks at this point and scamper back to the comfort of specialist journals and BBC documentaries.
The vaguely intrigued should follow suit.
The geological history of planet Earth is explosive, dramatic and jaw-droppingly fascinating but sadly the exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery seems deflated of the ‘Brian Cox/David Attenborough’ spark on which swathes of the science-hungry public have become accustomed to feasting.
For the geologically minded the exhibition could be patched together to craft some sense but those wishing to join the elite club of those-in-the-know are left scratching at the ice like a polar bear yearning for the fish below.
While the artefacts displayed in the cabinets are indeed captivating, their geological context is severely lacking.

Stromatalites are displayed in the same case as a horseshoe crab, a stuffed beaver and Neolithic agricultural tools with the only tangible link between the objects being that they were discovered in Sussex. It is a charming angle for the exhibition to focus on Sussex but unfortunately this is the only context and any sense of a time-scale between the objects and the events described is manifested as a jumbled timeline, seemingly added as an afterthought at the end of the show.
The introduction to the gallery cutely describes that there have been five major ice ages throughout Earth’s history but this is the last to be seen of a reference to anything other than: “The ice age.”
A free exhibition is doubtless a good thing but the Ice Age exhibition must not be the sole reason for a visit to this museum. Come for the delights of the interior design exhibition downstairs and stay for the coffee, but a word of caution to those that come bated with the anticipation of a wholesome learning experience: the Natural History Museum in London is free, too.
The exhibition ‘Chilled To The Bone, Ice Age Sussex’ runs until  January 14th 2014, open Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 until 17:00.

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