Arts and Heritage: Burns Beyond Reality
The arts and heritage sector, incorporating galleries and museums, heritage sites, and performance venues, represents a major driver of inward investment. The sector contributing in excess of £100 billion to the UK economy alone– a sum that grows year on year – and the sector employs over two million people. Digital creative industries have been key to this growth: the continuing development of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and associated immersive technologies are creating new opportunities for sector professionals and creatives.
Who is the client and what do they do?
The University of Glasgow (UoG) is one of the largest and most prestigious Higher Education providers in the UK. It is home to the only academic department in the world that focuses solely on the study and teaching of Scottish literature, and the department’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies is dedicated to Scotland’s national poet.
Dr Pauline Mackay, with whom Edify collaborated to build Burns Beyond Reality, is a Lecturer in Robert Burns Studies and, as well as teaching and researching Scotland’s bard, she has spoken and presented on Burns on radio and TV to global audiences, acted as a consultant for the Scottish government’s arts and heritage event programming and is a member of the UoG’s Extended Reality Strategy Board.
Goals before partnering with Edify?
Dr Mackay’s research focuses on how Robert Burns is commemorated across the world. In 2019, her entry to Edify’s Win-a-Lab contest, focusing on using VR to recreate one of Burns’s most significant and visually dramatic poems and celebrate his life, was selected as the contest’s winner.
What was the need the Edify project fulfilled?
Since the fifth anniversary of Burns’s death in 1805, groups have come together to celebrate the poet’s life and works. Today, Burns Suppers take place across the globe, but the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 made it harder – if not impossible – for them to happen. As a VR experience, Burns Beyond Reality represented not only a celebration of Burns using cutting-edge technology, but a global celebration of Burns at a time when travel and face-to-face meetings were less safe.
How did Edify satisfy those needs and help them meet its goals?
A uniquely immersive presentation of Scotland’s literary heritage, Burns Beyond Reality combines Burns’s Romantic poetry with cutting-edge computing technology, bringing the work of Scotland’s national poet into the twenty-first century. It vividly depicts Burns’s 1790 poem ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ and the wild imagery of “Alloway’s auld haunted kirk” in VR.
In addition to this, the Burns Beyond Reality and Art of the Burns Supper VR experience also gives access to a range of unique artifacts, some that belong to private collections and are only available to a select few to ever view, and none of which are available for the general public to handle. With Edify it is now possible not just to visit Alloway Auld Kirk, the famous setting of ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ but also to gain a first-hand ‘physical’ experience of what inspired the bard.
The event also marked the culmination of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies' two-year project, The Burns Supper in History and Today. One of the outputs of this project was a map of Burns Suppers across the world, which gathered data, images and video from more than 2,500 Burns Suppers held across the world. The map showcases the global reach of the Burns Supper, and features events from Glasgow to Ghana, from Svalbard to ESwatini. In celebration of this achievement, sculptor and artist David Mach also unveiled ‘Flying Haggis,’ which was commissioned by the Centre for Robert Burns Studies.
The artwork was revealed in a broadcasted VR experience using Edify to an audience of over 800 attendees who joined the festivities from across the world. This is something that could not have been done without VR technology and certainly not during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cutting-edge technology that powers Burns Beyond Reality represents not just an innovative direction for Robert Burns studies, but a step-change for the heritage industry. Edify has the potential to bring an array of arts and heritage experiences to a vastly expanded audience, and to empower professionals and practitioners to push the envelope of what is considered possible when crafting arts and heritage experiences.