Wednesday, 13 October, 2021

IllusiOcean, the sea as you have never seen it before makes its début at Milan-Bicocca University

Allow yourself to wonder at the fascinating biodiversity of the sea and the secrets of its marvellous ecosystem through the language of illusions. Until 31 January 2022, Milan-Bicocca University will host "IllusiOcean™", an exhibition designed and coordinated by Paolo Galli, lecturer of ecology at the University, and staged in conjunction with Mondadori Media and the National Museum of Cinema in Turin.

One of the aims of the exhibition dedicated to the sea is to raise awareness among civil society, schools of all levels, the academic world and the scientific community regarding the importance of achieving the goals set by the United Nations for the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), in particular Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

The exhibition is an interactive experience developed across three thematic areas

The first area consists of four rooms and two corners, each one illustrating a different aspect of the sea: from the biodiversity of tropical marine ecosystems to the problem of plastic pollution.

The journey begins with the "Virtual Reality" corner where, using 3D visors, visitors are able to explore the wonders of reefs and find out about coral restoration operations. Here, they can also enjoy the sensory experience of an underwater geyser simulation and enjoy the spectacle of nature.

In the "Submarine of illusions”, visitors will be able to dive amongst the seabeds of the Maldives, an archipelago that is home to some of the world’s largest coral reefs, an area of more than 4500 km2 characterised by extraordinary biodiversity and home to almost 300 different species of coral. In this room, visitors will have the opportunity to familiarise with the marine organisms that find shelter here. To do so, they will have to sharpen their senses: as they walk from one side of the space to the other they will see the images shrink or grow and watch algae and fish transforming into curious shapes.

The "Room of Mirrors" allows a foray amidst blooms of jellyfish, fascinating marine animals common to seas around the world, where they float carried by the currents. Among the bright umbrellas of these creatures, visitors will spot traces of the human menace called pollution. 

This room was designed with the support of master Murano glassmaker, Fabio Fornasier, who has created glass jellyfish using the characteristic manual process and reproduced - again in glass - the plastic objects that plague our seas.

The room dedicated to "The sea in the limelight, the oceans as they are portrayed in film" is the result of a partnership with the National Museum of Cinema in Turin. Here visitors will be able to participate in a new interactive experience to discover the magic of underwater cinema, through footage, objects and fascinating facts. "The relationship between man and the sea has always been one of the recurring themes in the history of film," says Domenico De Gaetano, director of the National Museum of Cinema, "the allure of the underwater world lends itself well to illusions and special effects. We are very pleased with this prestigious collaboration, which allows us to unveil another fascinating theme of the Seventh Art". 

The sea is a treasure chest that contains many different animal and plant species: some are easy to spot, others hide and camouflage themselves. Recognising them requires a trained eye, patience and a great deal of attention. In the "Labyrinth of marine secrets" children aged three to five can have fun looking for them amongst the walls of this special room.

The second corner, titled "Message in a Bottle", will take us back in time, to when letters were sealed inside glass bottles and entrusted to the currents of the sea that carried them ashore. Fortunately, we no longer need to throw a message into the ocean to communicate with the world: using the "sea of the Internet", each visitor can launch his or her own message of hope on social media networks by entering a virtual glass bottle.

The second area of the exhibition is home to 30 giant photographs, taken by some of the greatest experts in underwater photography - including Massimo Boyer - depicting the striking illusions created by nature that make our oceans even more spectacular, such as the camouflage of certain species of fish, or the phenomenon that generates the “underwater waterfalls” of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.          

The third block is dedicated to the work of the students of Vittorio Veneto and Luigi Cremona secondary schools in Milan and the Emilio Sereni Agricultural College in Rome. In recent months about 500 students have participated in the “Transverse Skills and Career Advice Programmes" by designing and creating parts of the exhibition, with model reconstructions of the seabed, scientific games, illustrated boards, drawings and audio guides for visitors.

"With IllusiOcean, Milan-Bicocca University is taking another important step towards getting back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, by welcoming schools, families and local inhabitants to discover an exhibition dedicated to the sea. We are pleased to open this exhibition that, thanks to the language of illusions, is not only fun, but also allows us to reflect on one of the priorities set by the UN 2030 Agenda: protecting the health of the sea. A challenge in which our researchers are committed each and every day to studying sustainable development solutions to protect the marine ecosystem," says Vice-Chancellor, Marco Orlandi.

The exhibition is free of charge and open to the public every Friday from 11 am to 6 pm and two Saturdays a month, in the Science Gallery (Buildings U1/U2, floor -1 Piazza della Scienza, Milan).    

Admission must be booked in advance through the website and visitors will be required to show a green pass at the entrance.    

Special guided tours for schools will be organised every Tuesday and Thursday morning, from 8 to 10 a.m. or from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; for bookings and information, send an e-mail to [email protected].

Thanks to a partnership with Mondadori Media, from the end of October, the "IllusiOcean™" exhibition will also be available online, exclusively through the website of Focus, Italy's most popular monthly publication and a point of reference for enthusiasts and those who want to find out more about technology, science, nature, medicine and innovation. By logging into the dedicated section of, visitors will be able to browse the rooms of illusions and discover amazing facts about the sea and its inhabitants during the virtual visit.

"The Bicocca University exhibition on optical illusions and the sea organised by Professor Paolo Galli is original, stimulating and entertaining. Three adjectives that have always been part of Focus' nature, which meant that it was only natural for us to offer our partnership to IllusiOcean. A partnership that, in addition to presenting and describing the exhibition, will allow people to visit it virtually through," declares Focus Editor-in-Chief, Raffaele Leone. "Original because it originated from an original and creative idea; stimulating because it aims to encourage reflection on the wonders of the sea and the need to preserve them; entertaining because the means of communication is playful, with the special effects of optical illusions. How could Focus not be part of it?"

The experience with "IllusiOcean™" does not stop with the exhibition. Throughout the exhibition period, there will be a packed calendar of initiatives promoted by Focus and the children’s magazine Focus Junior, to raise awareness among readers, teachers and students regarding the marine world and to explore the topics that characterise the initiative. These initiatives will start with this month’s issue of Focus, which is entirely dedicated to the importance of water: from the life cycle of the sea, the true liquid engine of our planet, to the life of the cetaceans that populate the waters of our peninsula, through to the story of the coral clinic in the Maldives, with plenty of must-read special content.

Every week, through and the magazine's social media, children will also find detailed information and interesting facts on the topics developed by the exhibition, and plenty more besides. As a matter of fact, they can share their photos, articles, ideas and suggestions on how to take care of our seas and oceans with the editorial staff, by e-mailing them to [email protected]: the most original entries will be published online and in the magazine. "Children and teenagers are concerned about climate change and the future of the planet and, as always, Focus Junior will provide an opportunity to voice their thoughts and proposals," says Sarah Pozzoli, Editor-in-Chief of Focus Junior.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Italian Society of Ecology (S.It.E), Lombardy Regional Authority and Milan City Council.