The Bartlett


Engaging digitally with London's heritage collections

by Alexandra Williams

Whilst Covid-19 restrictions may prevent us from physically visiting London’s treasure trove of heritage collections, there are many fulfilling ways to engage with the artefacts within their walls! As the capital’s museums and galleries have temporarily closed their doors, they have harnessed technological capabilities and digital platforms to immerse the public in a rich variety of cultural history. There is something for everyone!

The British Museum – Viking’s Live

The British Museum

The British Museum was already promoting unconventional exhibition experiences in 2014, when it immortalised the drama of its highly successful 2014 BP exhibition ‘Vikings: life and legend’ into a film streamed to UK cinemas. The feature enabled individuals who were unable to visit the site (or simply wished to enjoy the experience again!) to engross themselves in the subject matter of the seafaring Scandinavian people whose legacy on the land, language and culture of the UK is still visible today. 

Taking a trip down memory lane, the Museum has revived the exhibition footage to engage new audiences, with the film available to stream for free. If the full 89 minutes sounds a little daunting, you can watch the trailer here before taking the plunge! The soundtrack’s dramatic opening bars, accompanying the sweeping shots of the Museum’s imposing monumental Greek Revival style building, set the scene for an exciting retelling of the story of the Vikings who, as presenter Bettany Hughes informs us, “traded, raided, explored and settled” their way across four continents. In 2014, The Guardian hailed the exhibition as “the biggest Viking show in living memory” – so if you didn’t catch it then, now’s your chance! 

The Natural History Museum - Fantastic Beasts™: The Wonder of Nature 

The Natural History Museum

For fans young and old of JK Rowling’s mythical creatures in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them books and film adaptations, this online repository of the Natural History Museum’s exhibition dedicated to the real animals which inspired their creation is not to be missed! Making excellent use of the visually seductive Google Arts & Culture portal, the Museum invites us to take a virtual stroll through the exhibition and learn about the invaluable efforts of conservationists who work tirelessly to protect and enhance the lives of species under threat.

It is deeply encouraging to observe the Museum’s commitment to environmental and zoological education within the exhibition, as we hear that whilst “human activity is endangering the future of many animals” we have the power to “discover what we can do to save them”. The Kākāpō, for example, which inspired JK Rowling’s magical Graphorn, is a “flightless, nocturnal parrot” native to New Zealand whose population nearly became extinct in the late twentieth century following years of hunting. We learn that the intervention of conservationists in the 1980s to remove birds to nature reserves, combined with an intensive breeding programme and innovative technology-based tracking systems have resulted in population growth in the last quarter century.

You can celebrate these successes and the existence of the world’s most “fantastic beasts” by hosting your own game night in their honour! 

Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul

For the art afficionados among you, the Royal Academy of Art’s dedication to offer an impressive free virtual experience of the exhibition Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: the Loneliness of the Soul (which is on temporary lockdown hiatus) will come as a welcome surprise. This is especially so given that the show’s £17 tickets are already greatly limited for when the RA reopens with reduced capacity for the exhibition’s final fortnight in late May. 

The show explores the influence of pioneering Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch on the work of one of Britain’s most notable contemporary artists – Tracey Emin, Croydon-born and now a resident of Spitalfields, East London. This emotionally charged show revolves around both individual’s depictions of raw emotion and thus conveys “a moving exploration of grief, loss and longing” in their oeuvres.

Emin has chosen a combination of paintings (some making their public debut), neons and sculpture to complement a painstakingly curated selection of 18 oil and watercolour paintings loaned from the Munch Museum in Oslo. Watch Emin articulate her approach to the show and Munch’s profound impact on her work here


About the author

Alexandra is a full-time student on the MSc Sustainable Heritage, pursuing a career change in the historic environment sector following two years working in construction project management and her undergraduate degree in Art History and English at the University of St Andrews. She enjoys coxing for the UCL Boat Club.

Alexandra Williams - student blogger