Dance of light and shadow

Jerusalem’s Bloomfield Science Museum presents an exhibition teaching principles of physics.

Shadows exhibit 370 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram for Bloomfield Museum)
Shadows exhibit 370
(photo credit: Sasson Tiram for Bloomfield Museum)
There is hardly a child – and not many adults – who wont put two hands together in front of a light source in a dark room and turn the shadows into a long-eared rabbit or a toothy crocodile. Creating objects from shadows is quite irresistible.
Jerusalem’s Bloomfield Science Museum – which has a quarter of a million visitors annually – has taken advantage of that natural curiosity about light and shadow by preparing an unusual exhibition. It is based on one conceived at the Museum of Science and Industry in Paris (in partnership with the Georges Pompidou Center) – but the Bloomfield exhibition was designed and constructed by its own staffers in their workshop.
Half a dozen rooms, some large and some smaller, have been constructed inside the museum to depict the home of the fictional character Archibald Ombre (Archibald Shadow) – a rather eccentric doll of a character who lies in an iron bed suspended from the ceiling and snores loudly. Living in the 1930s, he tends to prefer darkness and collects natural-history specimens, artwork and a variety of other objects that look different when light sources are beamed at them.
Visitors to the exhibition – from toddlers who will have fun but won’t understand the scientific principles through older children and, of course, adults who will – are able to use their imaginations to view and manipulate objects to create shadows and even create odd figures with their bodies or parts of them. The exhibition, already popular this summer, will be open through Hanukka, according to Bloomfield deputy director-general Dea Brokman, who also curated the interactive exhibition.
The “Games in Light and Shadow” exhibition, in fact, begins even before one enters the Givat Ram building, because near the giant marble ball that rotates at a touch as water runs under it, there’s a place where visitors can become part of a sundial. Just stand on the part of a metal plate attached to the rock pavement that’s printed with the name of the current month – and your own shadow, projected on a curved piece of metal, tells you what time it is.
Up the stairs inside the museum, you will encounter Archibald’s French villa. In the entrance hall, make sure to pick up the phone and hear his welcoming message in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Continue through the other rooms in the house and you will see a shadow of a shadow, light boxes with a mysterious double image and a shadow movie. Play shadow games with your hands, sit in a darkroom and print your own shadow, learn about the lunar eclipse and astronomical shadows and enter his garden of shadows to see what animal creations you can make with your own hands.
Enter a room where visitors play with their own shadows in an interactive computerized work of art. You’ll notice how your shadow changes as you move.
Although it’s usually a no-no to stand between a projector and a screen – a frequent annoyance in conference halls with Power- Point displays – here one is encouraged by Archibald to do it. There are two main activities with screens and projectors. When you pass one screen, you will see your own shadow filmed and projected on the screen, when you pass the second, your body’s outline is chosen and then retransmitted. Both children and adults will be tempted to pass through this time and time again.
The odd Frenchman professor’s explanation is scribbled on a blackboard: “To get a shadow, you need a light source, an object in light and a surface on which you can see the shadow.”
In the living room, sit on the chair and notice that the shadow produced by your nose becomes larger and larger. The light on the ground and the slanted lighting on the wall causes your head to be monstrous. Visitors will learn that shadows don’t always look like the objects that cast them – they can sometimes be misleading.
Put your head under the curtain and use the side buttons to turn on the lights under your chin or on top of your forehead.
The shadows formed by the slanted light highlight your facial features to create a funny face.
Look into an open drawer to find out what’s casting the shadow. Seen from above, it’s often hard to realize what you’re looking at, but the shadows produced in the drawer help you figure out what the objects really are.
A camel can be viewed standing on its head. Focus on the upside-down image on the white surface. The image is upside down because the rays passing through the center of the lens don’t change their direction.
WHEN YOU enter the Room of Wonders, you’ll find a cabinet of curiosities that Archibald has collected over the years from all around the world. The museum either borrowed them from the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus or the objects – feathers, a shark’s jaw, large seashells, dried fish and lizards, primitive devices and more – were lent to the exhibition by staff members’ relatives and other local collectors. In the darkened room, with light sources dispersed among them, the static objects take on a whole new look and seem to move.
In Archibald’s kitchen, just use your imagination, and cooking utensils become toys that you use, with shadows, to tell stories.
To cook up an intriguing shadow, choose your utensils carefully, warm up the light, sprinkle with color and stir gently. It’s possible to create colored – not just monochromatic – shadows. Arrange colored bottles in front of the lamp so their colors blend. Try to create new colors. The colored liquid in each bottle changes the light that passes through it. A colander in the kitchen can be used to filter light and create a star-studded sky.
You can even look into a cupboard and create scurrying “cockroaches” using a cover with holes shaped like bugs. When light passes through the holes, blobs of light are created, seeming as though the creatures are running up the sides of the cupboard.
In Archibald’s lab, use devices he has prepared to discover the characters of light and shadow. You will also get a picture of your shadow that you can take home as a souvenir.
In the bathroom, you will see colored shadows of yourself and you will even stop drops of water in midair by turning a dial.
When the flicker rate is synchronized with the drip rate, the eye perceives the drop at one particular point in the path of its fall, so it appears to be frozen in space, Brokman explains as she accompanies this visitor on a tour.
RUSSIAN MATRIOCHKA dolls, each of which sit inside a larger one, are placed on a table. You are invited to create a single shadow with five dolls as you spin the turntable.
When the largest doll is in the front, the others sit in her shadow. When a small dot is in front, each doll casts a shadow on the one behind.
Ship models complete with white masts and string should be moved back and forth to change the size of their shadows. A mask nearby that is made of wire is played with by slowly moving a lamp close to it. As the shadows move on the screen, you feel as if you’re actually inside a large mask, taking the place of the lamp.
In the darkened greenhouse, a frog who was once a prince sits on the floor and sounds his “ribbit” croaks, looking much larger as a spotlight is placed behind him.
Look upwards to see the moon, stars and even space. The lunar “praxinoscope” presents the phases of the moon in fast-forward.
Although from Earth, the maximum that you can see is half a moon, here, you can view it as a ball. Solar eclipses becomes understandable as the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun in perfect alignment.
The moon’s shadow is cast on Earth. When the Moon hides the Sun from your view, the eclipse is created. You can tell stories using your own shadow and send birds aloft. There is also a comfortable, cushioned place at once side where you can rest and watch shadowy figures move about.
One of the highlights is being able to write on a special board with a “light” pen. In addition, numerous Israeli artists including Tamar Harpaz, Borris Oicherman, Leora Laor Sgan-Cohen, Baron Uri Sinai, Uriel Miron Tokatly Talia, Maya Attoun Yuval Dax, Koby Sibony, Itamar Mendes and Jan Tichy contributed their interactive art contraptions to the exhibition. The show also features interactive video installations by Hanna Ben- Haim Yulzari.
As one’s life is depicted by light and shadow, the exhibition is an appropriate one to view during the High Holidays of self-contemplation.