Sci-fi, dirt, and sore feet.

From the BL shopA few weeks ago, I visited the British Library’s new science-fiction exhibition, Out of this World: Science Fiction, but not as you know it. I’m a nerd, so a sci-fi exhibition in a library was right up my street.

I’ve been to the British Library quite a lot lately, especially to their recent Evolving English exhibition, which was excellent. This exhibition was quite different, though still reasonably busy when I attended. The room was loosely divided into themes, or ‘worlds’, from science fiction, such as automatons or time travel, using books, posters and films from the BL’s collection. The exhibition also said a lot about the extent to which these things have actually come to pass, such as mobile phones in Star Trek, or Arthur C. Clarke’s design for satellites.

Within each display, the items were chronological, but I really enjoyed the much looser overall feel, with people flitting to things they recognised or enjoyed from childhood. I also enjoyed seeing much older collections on display, demonstrating that science fiction has been around since the 18th Century (think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or H. G. Wells). The way the exhibition is organised also points out that, although science fiction is a defined genre, it is hugely varied.

I’d also planned on visiting the British Museum, so I stopped at the BL shop on the way out to buy a fridge magnet (I’m a sucker for gift shops), and headed out. On the way I encountered the Wellcome Collection, which­­­­­­­ “explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future”. I had heard of it vaguely, and since it was free I decided to go in. I particularly enjoyed their slogan; “­­a free destination for the incurably curious”. They were running an exhibition on Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life, which was really interesting.

'A Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water', William Heath, 1828

The objects on display were a mixture of books, art, artefacts and film, and sought to show how our relationship with dirt, and its wide, culturally and historically varying definition. As a sociologist I loved this, but also as with my library hat on it really showed how museums, galleries, archives and libraries are all connected by common threads.

By the time I arrived at the British Museum, my feet were killing me and I hadn’t realised how huge the museum is, so I only saw a tiny part of it. Looking around the displays, I noticed that it is actually possible for members of the public to handle some of the collections. Under the supervision of museum volunteers, you can get up close and personal with some of the artefacts, which I can imagine is particularly fascinating for children.

I think you’d need days to cover everything in the British Museum, and by the end I was just walking through the exhibits quickly, just glancing at the odd thing that took my interest. However, I did spend some time in the Balkan Jewellery and Dress exhibition, which has some beautiful textiles.

I have to say there was one thing I wasn’t happy about with the British Museum, which was its early closing time. It shut at half-five, with staff (understandably) ushering me out of one exhibition some time before this. It’s a shame that the museum isn’t open more into the evening, considering it’s in the centre of London where people expect much longer opening times. I’ll just have to visit again!

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