Darwin celebrated across UK as 150th anniversary of Origin of Species arrives

By Culture24 Staff | 24 November 2009
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A picture of a scientific film showing a prism floating across a landscape

(Above) Ben Rivers has made two Darwin-inspired films at Picture This in Bristol

Today (November 24 2009) marks the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the seminal, biblically-resonant biological text, which laid out his groundbreaking ideas of evolution and changed conceptions of life sciences forever.

If you want to explore beyond the literary legacy, though, there are several events and exhibitions across the UK inspired by the themes and legend of Darwin.

At the Natural History Museum, which recently opened the £78 million Darwin Centre for research and collections, it's the last chance to catch After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions, a collaboration between Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller and Darwin's great-great-granddaughter, the poet Ruth Padel, who are part of a quartet showing new work in the Summer show which finishes at the end of the week (November 29 2009).

A photo of the outside of a tall white curved building

The shiny new £78 million Darwin Centre

They've taken another of his books, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and used its theories on the continuity of emotional states of beasts and mortals to investigate the human-animal relationship and emotional expressions.

Film and installation commissions, video work and new literature commissioned from award-winning author Mark Haddon – of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time fame – complete the exhibition.

There's also a chance to pay an after-hours visit to the Darwin Centre on Friday, when it will be open until 10pm, and the spectacle of Tree Tania Kovats' giant oak built into the ceiling of a gallery off the Museum's Main Hall in symbolic celebration of Darwin's life.

A photo of a woman sitting in the centre of a circular gallery

24 Emotions by Mark Haddon at the Natural History Museum. © NHM

On Thursday, Bristol's Picture This project reveals two films by Ben Rivers, a young cinematographer obsessed by the wilderness and lonely landscapes.

Musing on Darwin's designs through island biogeography and possible future Utopias evolving on isolated islands, Origin of the Species presents the scientist as a man of inventions, science and solitude, and Slow Action contemplates our relationship with islands (exhibition runs until December 5, Thursday-Saturday 12pm-5.30pm, artist talk November 25, 6.30pm-8.30pm. Admission free.)

In Leicester, the Discover Like Darwin programme has run nearly 100 sessions since his 200th birthday in February, and the final lecture tomorrow (Wednesday November 25) will see local naturalist Dr Anthony Fletcher discuss Darwin's career in the context of his companions, correspondents and assistants with Leicestershire connections.

The work of local naturalists will also be on show (Council Chamber, County Hall, Glenfield, 7.30pm. Booking essential, call 0116 305 4102/3726 or visit the programme online.)

A photo of a tree built into the ceiling of a gallery

Tree by Tania Kovats

Darwin himself was an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh between 1825 and 1827, and the institution is hosting two linked exhibitions (until December 12) in the Georgian Gallery and White Cube spaces of its Talbot Rice Gallery.

Darwin’s Edinburgh uncovers the part teachers played in persuading the young medical student to pursue a path in scientific natural history, using paintings, busts and a death mask.

The Georgian Gallery itself forms the key exhibit for the University, which has reverted the room back to the architectural structure it formed when Darwin was studying specimens and debating taxidermy inside it.

The second part of the show, An Entangled Bank, is named after the conclusion of On the Origin of Species, which hypothesised poetically on "birds singing on the bushes", "insects flitting about" and "worms crawling upon the damp earth", all remaining "so different from each other and dependent on each other in so complex a manner".

Five artists visit the Scottish capital for sculptural installations and film, geological research and statistics revisiting his discoveries.

A photo of a dinosaur skeleton in a gallery

The Manchester Museum

The Manchester Museum has become a stalwart centre for stories of Darwin, and its imaginative Darwin Extravaganza programme, running until September 2010, includes objects collected by Darwin, illustrations of his life and images of the South American lands he visited on the Voyage of the Beagle.

"From the very beginning of my career as a wildlife photographer I felt drawn towards South America," says Ben Hall, who took the shots.

"The weather played its part in the Beagle Channel, just as it did for Darwin, and we endured some typically ferocious Fuegian storms."

For more on Darwin and his legacy visit the Natural History Museum's Darwin 200 website.

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