See the Light at “The Bright Beneath: The Luminous Art of Shih Chieh Huang”

Smithsonian Exhibition Fuses Art with the Science of Bioluminescence
September 1, 2011
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The National Museum of Natural History will unveil its newest temporary exhibition, “The Bright Beneath: The Luminous Art of Shih Chieh Huang,” Sept. 3. The exhibition will showcase the artwork of artist Shih Chieh Huang, who was a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow at the museum in 2007. Huang used his fellowship to explore the unusual evolutionary adaptations of deep-ocean creatures that allow them to live in environments unthinkable to humans. One adaptation, in particular, called bioluminescence, inspired Huang to create the haunting installations that will be suspended in the Ocean Focus Gallery at the back of the Sant Ocean Hall. Huang’s creations, composed of lights, computer parts and plastic tube appendages, will be on display until Jan. 8, 2012.

As a Smithsonian Artist Research fellow, Huang had access to part of the museum’s immense collections of more than 125 million objects and specimens. He gravitated toward the mysterious deep-sea creatures that produce light in order to survive in the deep, a process called bioluminescence. Their appearance inspired Huang to create artistic installations that would invoke the same sense of wonder and curiosity he felt when peering through the microscope at their unique anatomy. He worked closely with Smithsonian scientists to document each specimen he studied, a process he then carried over to his studio as he produced his creations, designed to appear as if they were “floating” in the darkness of the museum gallery. While the constructions are not biological models or reconstructions of the specimens he studied, they represent the creativity and imagination that was sparked by his investigation.

“People may be surprised to know how much you can learn about a process like bioluminescence, light produced by living plants and animals, by examining dead ones, yet, every day, our scientists study such specimens to make astonishing new discoveries about our living world,” said Lynne Parenti, curator of Fishes in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at the National Museum of Natural History. “Shih Chieh Huang knew the same kind of examination was critical to his artwork, and the result is an exceptional exhibition that conveys warmth, whimsy and artistic genius.”

Bioluminescence, the extraordinary adaptation that allows certain animals to produce and emit light, is especially useful when the habitat where these animals live is one of perpetual darkness, like the deep ocean. In order to survive without sunlight many organisms (and even bacteria and algae) have evolved the ability to ingest chemicals that react together to produce a light reaction. Luminescent bacteria can even find a home within other organisms and produce light for their host. Other deep-marine species can emit light in particular flashing patterns or glow different colors to help them seek prey, find mates and warn off predators.

Huang’s recent foray into the scientific sphere is the latest achievement in his illustrious career as a world-renowned artist. After receiving his MFA at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Huang has had a number of Selected Group Exhibitions and Solo Exhibition at some of the premiere art spaces in the world. He’s won numerous awards, honors and grants, including The Oscar Signorini Prize from the D’ars Foundation in Milan, Italy in 2008. “Bright Beneath” is his latest solo exhibition, and an attempt to merge science and art in a bold new way. His unmatched talent, creativity, and exceptional vision allow visitors to see and understand their natural world through an entirely different lens.

For more information about the exhibition, visit:

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, located on 10th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. in Washington, D.C., welcomes more than 6 million visitors annually. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information about the museum, visit it at and on Facebook, Twitter (hash tag #nmnh), YouTube and Flickr or call (202) 633-1000, TTY (202) 633-5286.

Suggested tweet: Sept 3, @NMNH opens “The Bright Beneath” showcasing art by C.J. Huang, inspired by deep sea creatures that create their own light. #nmnh

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Randall Kremer


National Museum of Natural History
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