When we talk about visiting museums, we talk primarily about looking at, or seeing, the exhibits. Occasionally, displays might include an auditory element, but very rarely are our noses, mouths, or hands given much to do. This is symptomatic of a more general prioritisation of sight within Western education, and even Western languages, which tend to conflate the acts of seeing, believing, and understanding – ‘Ah, I see’, to give an English example. Our perception of the world, though – and indeed the positioning of the self within it – relies on an amalgamation of all five senses.
On Friday 15th May, Pitt Rivers Musem and the Museum of Natural History aim to offset the dominance of vision. With ‘Sensations’, a multi-sensory evening held as part of the ongoing Museums at Night series, the two venues encourage visitors to ‘explore the galleries with more than just your eyes.’ As usual, there will be live music beneath the dinosaurs throughout the night, this time complemented by performances from sound artists Mike Blow and Alex Allmont, who will be using Theremins, sound waves, and synthesisers to channel the spirit of mad professors from the 1950s.
Pop-up stations situated across the two museums will encourage visitors to utilise their senses of smell, taste, and touch. You will be offered the chance to handle some of Pitt Rivers’ many artefacts, and have the opportunity to ‘smell your way to other continents’. In the Museum of Natural History, there will be a number of taste tests: try fruits and insects from around the world, discover the effect of colour on perception of food, and meet a chilli-ologist. (And, if creepy-crawlies and super-hot spicy sauces seem a little adventurous to you, then there is always the bar!)
Many of the evening’s activities provide insights into sight, with scientists from the University of Oxford explaining the relationship between the eyes and the brain, and testing your binocular vision – can you see as well with one eye as with two? You will also be able to make your own thaumatrope, a toy dating from the nineteenth century that, when spun, forms an optical illusion. The Sensations evening promises to be another engaging entry in the Museums at Night series, this time enabling visitors not only to see the museum in a new light, but also supplying a rare occasion for the other four senses to share centre stage.
Sensations is a one-night only event, taking place on Friday 15th May. Tickets are £5, with a concessionary group rate of four tickets for £15.