Happy 200th birthday Charles Darwin – Thursday 12 February

Press release - 11 February 2009

Darwin200 at the Natural History Museum

Understanding the variety of life on earth is at the heart of the Natural History Museum, and so to celebrate Charles Darwin’s two-hundredth birthday and investigate his enduring legacy, the Museum has planned a series of free events.

The highlight of the day will be an exclusive screening of two artist films, which reflect both the scientific and social concerns of Darwin’s theory, followed by a discussion with the artists.

The first work, Bookworms, by Ackroyd & Harvey will be screened at 11.30. The film depicts a conversation between the artists and antiquarian book collectors Chris and Michelle Kohler. It is set against a slowly evolving time-lapse film that brings together the natural forces of growth and decay with artifice, control and randomness. The resulting work celebrates the digestive power of earthworms, the legacy of book collecting and the plain unpredictability of life.

The second film at 14.30 is by artist collaboration Curious, and entitled Fit to Survive? On his journey with HMS Beagle in the 1830s, Charles Darwin was struck by the biodiversity of the Pacific waters and coastlines. But today, a vast expanse of debris – an estimated 100 tonnes of rubbish held in place by underwater currents – covers the same area. Haunted by the grim irony, Curious look back to Darwin’s voyage and ask what species will be fit to survive in the new environments we are creating.

Artists Helen Paris and Leslie Hill from Curious, said ‘Ever since we heard about the continent of trash floating in the Pacific we’ve been haunted by knowing it’s out there. Darwin developed many of his ideas about evolution through observing biodiversity on Pacific islands, so when asked to make a short film for the Darwin anniversary we wanted to point out the grim irony of this and ask what species will be fit to survive in the new environments we are creating.’

At 12.30 the Museum’s Dr Sandy Knapp will give a free public talk about Darwin’s relevance today – complete with birthday cake. Visit www.nhm.ac.uk/darwin-birthday for more information.

Places in the screenings are limited and allocated on a first come first served basis. Bookworms and Fit to Survive? are part of Darwin Originals, a series of eight films produced by Artsadmin and DVDance, four of which will be shown on Channel 4 throughout February. The films are supported by the Wellcome Trust and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Other events at the Museum include Annie’s Box, a free puppet performance available in the galleries inspired by Charles Darwin’s daughter, Annie, and her writing box. Annie’s Box uses puppetry to convey some of the stories relating to the Darwin children and young people who had conversations with him in and around his home village of Downe. Darwin himself will join the celebrations when his gallery character walks the Museum enabling visitors talk to the birthday boy and find out about his life and some of his theories.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection revolutionised our understanding of the natural world and is the foundation to how we understand the variety of life on Earth. The events at the Natural History Museum are part of Darwin200, a national programme to celebrate Charles Darwin’s scientific ideas, impact and influence, around the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth. The Museum is at the centre of the celebrations and launched its first Darwin200 events in July 2008, when a statue of Charles Darwin was moved to overlook the iconic Hintze Hall  (formerly the Central Hall). The celebrations continue with the current blockbuster exhibition 'Darwin'.

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Notes for editors

Darwin visitor information
Admission: adult £9.00, child £4.50, family (up to two adults and maximum three children) £24.00, concession £6.00
free for Members, Patrons and children aged three and under.
Dates and times: every day, 14 November – 19 April 2009, 10.00–17.50 (last admission 17.30) closed 24–26 December
Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 5000 Monday–Friday, 020 7942 5011 Saturday–Sunday
Website: www.nhm.ac.uk

  • Selected by Time Out in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of London, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.
  • Darwin200 is a national programme celebrating Charles Darwin’s life, his ideas and their impact around his two hundredth anniversary. Information about national Darwin events can be found at www.darwin200.org
  • Artsadmin is a unique producing and presenting organisation for contemporary artists working in theatre, dance, live art, visual arts and mixed media, providing an unparalleled resource for contemporary artists. Based at Toynbee Studios in east London, Artsadmin produces work by Ackroyd & Harvey, Anne Bean, Bobby Baker, Bock & Vincenzi, Curious, Gary Stevens, Graeme Miller, Lemn Sissay, Mem Morrison, Rosemary Lee and Station House Opera, as well as working with 20 associates and producing one-off projects with these and other artists.
  • Recent projects have included Darwin Originals, a series of artist films to be shown as part of Channel 4’s Three-Minute Wonders series in February, a new touring theatre piece by Station House Opera, Mind Out, a major new film installation by Zineb Sedira entitled MiddleSea, presented at the Wapping Project, and Ackroyd & Harvey’s ambitious public artwork, FlyTower, on the National Theatre’s flytower in 2007. www.artsadmin.co.uk
  • The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s purpose in the UK and Ireland is to help enrich and connect the experiences of individuals and secure lasting and beneficial change. The foundation was established in Lisbon in 1956. The UK branch, based in London, has for more than 50 years initiated and supported pioneering social, cultural and educational developments.
  • One of its current aims is to support imaginative interventions that contribute towards the protection of the environment, and for some years it has promoted activities in which artists engage with science. Key publications include Strange and Charmed: Science and the Contemporary Visual Arts, Science, Not Art: Ten Scientists’ Diaries, the award-winning Wild Reckoning: An Anthology Provoked by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Signs and Humours: The Poetry of Medicine and Dark Matter: Poems of Space.

For further information, please contact:
Tel: 020 7942 5654 or 07799 690 151 Email: press@nhm.ac.uk
(not for publication)