Dead Zoo lets visitors see through the eyes of animals

Artists showcase ‘meta-perceptual’ helmets at Natural History Museum for Science Week

Nigel Monaghan, keeper of the Natural History Museum, tries one of the ‘animal vision’ helmets.

Nigel Monaghan, keeper of the Natural History Museum, tries one of the ‘animal vision’ helmets.

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to look left and right at the same time like a hammerhead shark? This week at Dublin’s Dead Zoo – also known as the Natural History Museum – you will have your chance.

Two Irish artists have created a series of polished aluminium helmets that allow people to see the world through the eyes of animals, both real and imagined. Along with the hammerhead shark helmet, there is one for a horse, a chameleon, a giraffe and even a Cheshire cat.

“The hammerhead shark is like looking out of two periscopes, but you see to your right and left instead of above you. It’s like your eyes are displaced a half metre to the left and right. When you look out of it, at first you don’t realise you have a blind spot in front of your nose,” said Denis Connolly, one half of the artistic duo that developed the helmets.

His partner, Anne Cleary, will give a talk about their inspiration at 1pm tomorrow at the museum. The “meta-perceptual” helmets will be on display as part of Science Week until Sunday, November 16th.

Ms Cleary and museum staff will be on hand to explain the helmets and assist people trying them on. This is necessary as they are quite heavy, according to Connolly.

“We wanted to show them and thought of the Dead Zoo because of the animal analogy,” he said.

The Paris-based team spent years developing the helmets in order to help people explore the mysteries of visual perception.

They began by consulting eye researchers and asking them “stupid questions, like, ’Why don’t we have one eye in the back of our heads so we can see people trying to attack us from behind?’”

“We started off with purely mechanical questions, but when we started working, they became quite sculptural objects.”

The team sought help from the optometrics department at the University of Montreal to get advice on optical design.

For the horse helmet, they used two ocular lenses and two pentaprisms (prisms with five sides). “The pentaprism gives you the impression you can turn your eye all the way around, like a horse or other lateral-visioned animal.”

Museum-goers will only be able to see like a horse for another week. After Science Week, the helmets will move to the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.