The debut exhibition at the museum’s new Sammy Ofer wing is…different. There is little to read. There are no historic objects to look at. You won’t learn very much. You might come out feeling a little giddy. High Arctic is more of a walk-through art installation than an exhibition.
The…let’s call it ‘spectacle’…is notionally set in the year 2100, when the Arctic landscape has ‘changed forever’. United Visual Artists have created a highly interactive display. Every visitor is given a UV torch. You enter a darkened room with hundreds of tall plastic blocks representing glaciers. They’re everywhere. It’s like someone left their 3-D printer running before going on a very long holiday. Readers of a certain vintage will be reminded of Q*bert.
Shining the torch on top of a ‘glacier’ reveals its name. It’s a cute trick, but only holds the attention for a couple of minutes. You’ll then seek out one of the interactive floor displays. Here, a projected blizzard is pushed aside with the superchromatic power of your magical torch. There, you zoom around a glacier field with reckless abandon. And over in the corner you break up floating ice by bathing it in UV. All the time, disembodied voices swirl around the room, presumably talking about Arcticy things. You don’t want to do this with a hangover.
The overall effect is unarguably impressive and you’ll probably exit with a smile on your face. Kids, in particular, will love it. Don’t expect to come out of High Arctic with any greater appreciation or understanding of that wild place up north, but do expect an original and ingenious diversion.
High Arctic is on at the National Maritime Museum until 13 January 2012. Entrance is £6 (adult), £5 (concessions), £4 (kids).