Skip to content

By Jessica Bradford on

Art at the NCC: Adapting through the Pandemic

In early 2020, we commissioned artist Bedwyr Williams to create an artistic response to the Science Museum Group Collection and its new home at the National Collections Centre (NCC) in Wiltshire, which will open to the public in 2024.

Bedwyr’s project, Science Fictions: Journey through objects with Bedwyr Williams, relied on inviting people interested in different forms of writing – from short stories to poetry and journalism – to create works in response to the objects from our collection, hundreds of thousands of which are cared for at the NCC.

In February 2020, ahead of launching a call for participants for the project, we spent a day at the NCC with Bedwyr as he explored the site and discussed ideas for how we would welcome participants to the NCC and what kinds of research sessions or open days might take place. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the UK into a national lockdown we pivoted to online working. Despite it being a challenging time, we realised that moving the project online had given us a unique opportunity to make it more inclusive.

Bedwyr Williams at the NCC

On 1 March 2020, we announced Bedwyr’s project, with a call for people ‘interested in writing’ to get involved. During breaks between lockdowns, Bedwyr came to visit and film at the NCC, creating a trailer for the project that served as an intriguing showcase of the collection. He also filmed a tour of the site using a Go-Pro, offering a unique opportunity for participants to see it through his eyes.

Participants were asked to commit to six Saturdays, one a month, from June to November 2021. Five of these would be online, one, we hoped, in person at the NCC. We were delighted to receive so many impressive applications from writers that we doubled our participant numbers, a move made possible by hosting the sessions online. In two groups, participants spent half their Saturday in writing workshops with Bedwyr and writer and facilitator Sally O’Reilly, and the other half meeting museum staff to learn about the NCC and its collection. Working online allowed us to welcome participants from northern Scotland alongside those from within two miles of the NCC site.

They explored the Science Museum Group Collection through a range of tools: our online collection the Random Object Generator and a tool – Never Been Seen – which presents recently digitised objects which have never been viewed online. Then, in August and September, we were able to welcome the group of writers for a day with Bedwyr at the NCC, exploring the stores with staff, meeting some of the objects they’d found online and discovering new ones…

Participants at the National Collections Centre

Since last autumn, our participants have produced their written responses to objects in the collection. They created a fascinating range of work, full of curiosity, humour, provocations, emotion and surprise.

Excitingly, Bedwyr has also decided to gather these diverse responses into a book which he is in the process of developing with Sally. It’s intended as a small edition to mark this stage of the project. Bedwyr is now also thinking about how these stories will inspire the film that he will make in the next phase of the project. We can’t wait to see how Bedwyr will draw on the writers’ imaginations and the collection!

As the project progresses through to launch in 2024, this blog series will allow you insights into the process, hearing from different members of the project team.