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The making of Art at Calke

Or how to make artists of a video crew...

In the midst of holiday preparations isn’t the best time to be asked to film an event, but that’s what happened to me in February 2002. The request came from Celia, the Education Officer at Calke Abbey, the National Trust property in Ticknall, Derbyshire. She wasn’t cold calling since my wife and I do voluntary work at Calke, helping with educational visits and events.

A National Trust programme called Arts in Trust was to fund an event in Calke Park, involving three artists and approximately thirty students, over four days. The students would have the opportunity to ‘Explore creative responses within an extraordinary natural environment’. I soon realised that more than one camera would be needed to cover all the activities, and other members of were recruited to form the team.

The event was to take place from the 1st to 4th July 2002, but, as for any film, much groundwork was needed before then. I attended meetings with the artists, and held meetings with the team. We planned to interview the artists and Celia, both before and after the event, and to record comments from the students as the event progressed. As many close-up shots as possible were envisaged with the use of unusual angles.

The team visited Calke Abbey and got establishing shots in the can. Two of the crew were given permission to stay in their caravan in the car park for the four days. The caravan also provided a base for the video crew. In addition, references of good character and fitness to work with children had to be provided by everyone, because some of the students were expected to be under 18 years old.

The 1st July was cold and windy, but the three artists, Marcus Rowlands, Usha Mahenthiralingam and Glyn Evans, plus the 7 strong video crew, travelled to Calke, full of enthusiasm, ready to greet the students. Then came the bad news. – 15 of the 27 expected students had withdrawn. OK so there should still be 12. Interviews with the artists were filmed while we waited for the 12 to arrive. We were waiting in vain. – only 1, Maggie Smith, turned up! After Celia had recovered slightly from the intense disappointment and frustration, it was decided that there was only one solution - the video crew had to join with Maggie and double up as students in the exploration of the Park!

We started by being guided, with our eyes closed, by a leader who recorded our reactions to what we saw when told to ‘Open your eyes’. Both verbal and movement reactions were noted at different times. We each took turns to be a leader. With the words we used when ‘opening our eyes’ Glyn guided us to create music using our voices. (Even though some of us only have two singing notes – both wrong!) Using our ‘sung’ pieces, and some elementary musical instruments, we composed and performed the ‘Calke Symphony’. With guidance from Usha, we used our physical reactions on ‘opening our eyes’ to create movement pieces. With Marcus, we modelled large scale grass heads to plant in the grounds, and cut ‘frames’ in card to concentrate our view of park features.

The problem of being both ‘explorers’ and video crew is that you can’t do both at once. We solved this by staging some of the activities again for the cameras and by taking turns to be cameraman or sound recordist. This meant that the video making became intertwined with the art activities.

Above Left: Large scale grass heads planted. The Insert shows them being carried by the ‘explorers’ the planting site.
Above Right: Raw video projection. The ‘screen’ with aperture cut-outs in front.

A ‘presentation’ or ‘sharing’ on the last afternoon was part of the planned event. We shared the activities of the four days with a group of visitors. This included projecting the raw video footage onto and through a screen sized piece of card with large shaped apertures cut into it. The recorded ‘Calke Symphony’ was played as an accompaniment to the projection.

The fun then started as I tried to edit the footage into a short video that put across the experience we had all enjoyed. The objective was to provide The National Trust with a record of the event and to enable the viewer to see Calke Park ‘with new eyes’. The ‘eyes opening’ theme is simulated by the horizontal split barn door transition. Marcus’s frames have inspired ‘masks’ used with picture in picture to focus attention.

The card apertures used in ‘sharing’ the raw video footage, gave the inspiration for the final section of the edited video. In hindsight this should perhaps have been shorter, but the length of the ‘Calke Symphony’ dictated its length. All the sound used was recorded during the event, although the East Midlands Airport flight path and rain on the tin barn roof made some unusable. You too can see Calke Park ‘with new eyes’ by visiting; the park is open every day of the year.

The finished video was given a premier at Calke Abbey for The National Trust and the artists involved. As a result a short extract was shown on BBC East Midlands Today. In addition to being awarded joint First Place for the Challenge Cup at the CEMRIAC Spring Festival,

Art at Calke has been awarded a Silver Seal at the IAC International Film and Video Festival 2003 and a Silver Diploma at the Cotswold International Film Festival 2003.

- Dave Midgelow from Wyvern Amateur Video Enthusiasts (at Long Eaton)

(Source: CEMRIAC Nov/Dec 2003)

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