A First Look At Sydney's New Interactive Sherlock Holmes Exhibition

Image: Gizmodo Australia

Murder. Mystery. Mycroft.

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes has descended upon The Powerhouse Museum! This interactive exhibition blends science with fiction and will be in town until October 8th. And the best part is that it gives you a chance to play detective.

A brand new morbid narrative sits at the center of the exhibition, and it's up to fans to don their proverbial deer stalkers to solve the case. They'll find themselves completely immersed in Holmes' world — from the origins of the character himself to how he became the epitome of the modern Victorian detective.

The exhibition opens with an introduction to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is here that you will find yourself weaving between literary treasures, such as rare first editions and hand written letters by the author.

But this isn't any ordinary exhibition biography. It is a truly immersive experience that plunges you into the Victorian era, a time that encompassed a scientific renaissance. As a trained doctor, Conan Doyle injected an exponential amount of modern science and police work into his narratives. As exhibition-goers will learn, a journey into the world of Sherlock is also a journey of scientific discovery.

In fact, the entire exhibition was born from the desire to make science relateable and interesting.

"With science museums and natural history museums, we're always looking for ways to relate and make science personal. So when Sherlock Holmes was coming out with the new movies and TV shows, it was such a no brainer. What Conan Doyle put into the books is so rich with medicine, scientific method and forensics... It really came down to what would make a science exhibition really relevant, fun and beautiful," says Geoffrey M. Curley, the content developers and curator of the exhibition.

In this section of the exhibition, you will find a plethora of scientific elements that provide snapshots into the science of the Victorian era — the beginnings of police photography, ballistics, finger printing and even botany.

These draw parallels between revolutionary techniques and how Conan Doyle utilised them to create contemporary fanaticism with a fictional detective. A character so popular that 20,000 people allegedly cancelled their magazine subscriptions when he was killed off.

After wading through the waters of scientific inquiry, soon-to-be detectives will find themselves being beckoned by into a rich reconstruction of 221B Baker Street and the beginning of their own murder mystery.

From analysing blood spatter patterns to playing with a footprint machine, it's up to you to review the evidence and solve the crime. Not only is this a unique and immersive experience, it's designed to capture the imagination and encourage inquiring minds.

"We wanted it to be interactive from the very beginning. People learn in so many different ways... [here] you're able to experience the experiments and go through the thought process of scientific method and actually use the forensic science techniques that real scientists use today," Curley explains.

"We worked with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is a forensic science lab out of America and they only really work with homicides and FBI cases. [But] they were with us throughout the entire development — making sure that what we were telling was accurate to what they do."

He continues, "Having people experience that, even if it's set in a Sherlock Holmes story, participating in a real mystery, observing and deducting conclusions from clues and experiments is what we really want to have resonate with people.

"When they leave [we want them to have] their own questions. It doesn't have to be a police mystery — it can be the mystery of what's growing in your backyard. If you use the same techniques as the exhibition, you'll be able to answer some of those questions and identify what the truth is versus assumption or fiction."

After the case has been solved, you are transported back to the present — where we continue to sport an almost fanatical obsession with Holmes 125 years later. Between kitschy merchandise and costumes from the various modern incarnations, Sherlock remains strongly cemented in the pop cultural psyche.

This may be because Sherlock is such a complicated and fascinating character. But one could argue it's because Conan Doyle created stories that remain relatable. "Everyone can take what their interests are from the stories — whether that's logic, the romance of the Victorian era, great mystery stories, or great characters. There are so many ways you can get into the stories."

The ongoing durability of the Sherlock Holmes character can also be found in treatment of his modern incarnations. The spirit of Conan Doyle's brand of scientific inquiry is still alive and well.

"I think some [adaptations] really do take advantage of the science," says Curley. "If you look at the BBC Sherlock, it's really true to the science using contemporary technology — which is what Conan Doyle put into his stories too. A lot of the stuff that Sherlock was using was new at the time so it's nice to see that refreshed now."


The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes is running at The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney until October 8th. Pre-book your tickets online and save..

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