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Lindsey Porter

Making Christmas…Davy & Kris take us behind the scenes

Harewood Christmas_TomArber_davykrisDavy & Kris McGuire created the mesmerising installation for this year’s Christmas experience, A Night at the Mansion. We delved behind the scenes on their creation…

What are the details around the technology you are using? Is it something specific?

We are mostly using pretty standard projectors, the type you find in conference rooms or home cinemas. And what is thrown at the wall are literally just movies that have been edited and rendered specifically for the surface we are projecting onto. If you were to see those films on a screen you’d be surprised how weird and non-sensical they look. They only come to life in combination with the fabric of the building.
The films are looped on tiny, almost credit card sized computers called Raspberry Pi which you can find in children’s hands in computer science classes.

How do you create the projections?

We follow the same process that other film makers follow: You start with a vision and a story. Then a scriptwriter comes on board and writes all the dialogue, for Harewood we commissioned Christina Lewis. Then you cast your actors and you film them. In our case we mostly shoot them in front of green screens or with a very uncomfortable, weighted helmet/camera contraption on their heads (to film their eyes and mouths in a very particular way). Then you edit and comp that footage into what we call projection mapping kits. What we do differently from traditional film makers is the next step. We don’t finish here but we take those footage kits and splash them onto the wall where we map every pixel to the right spot on the chosen projection surface. This last process takes place in situ and it’s the reason why we stayed 3 weeks at Harewood prior to the opening.

How hard was it to line up the projections with the porcelain and the ceiling for example, it’s so precise, how is this possible?

As projection mapping artists you know the right tricks and softwares to help with pulling and pushing pixels into the right direction. It’s neither easy nor hard, it’s a technique you’ve got to learn. What is hard is making sure that the projections stay in place after you’ve mapped them, especially in buildings where you can’t drill into anything. When projectors heat up their focus can change and the projection can go wonky. If your projection surface (for example paper in different humidity conditions) has a life of its own the mapping can lose its precision. If audiences touch or kick projectors they can dislocate the mapping. So that part can be much more nerve wrecking and time consuming than lining up the projections initially.

What’s different/special about what you do from a tech perspective?

We think that we bring something special to projection mapping through our background in dance and theatre. We think in characters and stories whereas a lot of projection mapping artists think primarily in audiovisual effects.

The music was commissioned – can you tell us what the brief was and who you worked with?

We worked with a brilliant composer called Spesh Maloney (one visitor asked whether we had used Händel or Haydn for the porcelain figures!) and we briefed him by either describing what we need or sending him musical references. For A Night at the Mansion it was a mix of describing the atmosphere we wanted to create for each room, suggesting instruments, asking for a mood (a melancholy mood for the gallery figures for example), filming one of us ‘singing’ the idea we had in our head to our phone camera and sending the video to Spesh (don’t ask to see this please) and sometimes Spesh would just send a track as a suggestion from his side. Towards the end of the install Spesh joined us in the house and mastered each sound to fit the acoustics of the room. That’s when the portraits got a slight musical backing track for example – to disguise the musical noise bleed from the music in the room next door.

How long did the project take to create, aside from the installation?

We started with technical site visits at the end of July and then went more or less exclusively until the opening. So 4 months, whilst gently keeping other projects cooking on the side.

Find out more about Christmas at Harewood: A Night at the Mansion here

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Looking after the books at Harewood

HarewoodChristmas_Spanish_LibraryNow when you visit this library you can see the incredible Christmas display, focused entirely around books and their pages.

Book consolidation is part of a rolling programme of conservation projects for the Collections Care team. When Harewood closed to the public at the end of October, the thousands of books in the three libraries were a primary focus for conservation and care. For three weeks each morning, we collected books from the Spanish Library, making sure to note what shelf they were from. Then each book was lightly dusted off using a shaving brush (as these are curved just like the outside edges of a book) into a hoover covered with gauze. Any books that had corners that were delaminating were then placed on a book support, to take pressure off the spine and binding.

They were then glued using Rex Prepared Paste before being held together with a silicone coated paper (which doesn’t stick to the prepared paste), cardboard squares and a clamp overnight, to ensure that they dried straight. The glue was also used to consolidate any leather that was starting to delaminate. Once they had dried any books with leather bindings were polished using Marney’s Conservation Leather Dressing, before their conservation entry was updated on our database and returned to their correct shelf.

With over 11,000 books on the State Floor, you can see why their consolidation has to be carried out as a rolling programme!

You can read more about the Spanish Library. 

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Dementia-friendly team training

dementia-friends-pin-badgeThis week our Visitor Experience Team become Dementia Friends and joined the UK’s biggest ever initiative to change the way people think, act and talk about Dementia.

Twenty members of the Visitor Experience Team, including supervisors and those who work in the House, on the Chain Ferry, and at Visitor Reception, took part in the training session, delivered by a volunteer Dementia Friends Champion.

Being a Dementia Friend simply means learning more about dementia, putting yourself in the shoes of someone living with the condition, and turning your understanding into actions. Something as simple as being more patient during a transaction at our ticket booths, every action counts.

This was a really impactful session, where those taking part learnt about key messages through activities and discussion, providing a greater understanding of Dementia affects everyone differently and committing to one dementia-friendly action at the end of the session.

Emily Long, Visitor Experience Manager, said “This was a really enjoyable session and our team is proud to raise awareness and support people living with Dementia. It’s incredibly important that as many of our staff and volunteers as possible have the opportunity to become Dementia Friends and we will all be wearing blue forget-me-not pin badges to identify ourselves.”

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Of Landscape and Literature, pause for thought with head gardener, Trevor Nicholson

Harewood_House_Head_Gardener

Having always loved words, especially literature relating to landscapes, plants and gardens, I was delighted to accept an invitation from the Ilkley Literature Festival, to speak at their reception for the Festival Friends at the Ilkley Playhouse in October.

Throughout the 25 years I’ve worked at Harewood, shaping and re-planting the gardens and engaging with all the different elements within them, studying literature has given me a rich insight into the stylistic and cultural history of gardens, as well as a deep appreciation of landscape.
Poetry has been an important source of inspiration for me, as well as a guiding light, especially in the making of Harewood’s Himalayan Garden. This garden, with its meandering paths leading to a Buddhist Stupa, flowery glades, rocky slopes, stream and waterfall – all surrounded by a borrowed wilderness of tree tops stretching far beyond its boundary – evokes a scene in a Himalayan valley.

At an early stage in my musings about the potential future development of this special part of the gardens, a poem by Li Po made a lasting impression:

You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care
As the peach blossom which flows downstream and is
gone into the unknown
I have a world apart that is not among men.

Probably as a result of formative wanderings through the ruggedly picturesque landscape around Teesdale, I felt an empathy with the ethereal charm of this garden many years ago, even before discovering Li Po’s beautiful poem, in which he describes his feeling of total peace and perfect solitude whilst dwelling in a mountain retreat – a natural world, entirely removed from city life.

From its creation by the 6th Earl of Harewood and Princess Mary in the 1930’s and their connections with the great plant hunters, to the present Earl’s building of the Harewood Stupa in 2004 and botanical journeys to the Himalayas to inform the cultivation of a new plant collection, the story of this garden is a fascinating one and continues to evolve.

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A pair of the world’s largest flying birds take residence at Harewood

Condor_Harewood_BirdGardenTwo giant female Andean condors have arrived at Harewood House Bird Garden this week, as part of the charity’s work to proactively take part in the preservation and continuation of endangered species.

Babs and Janina will live in the newly revamped large enclosure at Harewood, where they have already drawn visitors to discover more about them. Harewood House Trust has joined the European breeding programme, where it will host and care for birds who are being readied to be paired off for breeding.

Nick Dowling, Bird Garden & Farm Experience Manager at Harewood, says; “We’re really excited about the arrival of these two impressive birds, there have never been Condors in Harewood’s history and they will be a valued addition to the Bird Garden’s significant Collection.
“Andean Condors are classified as near-threatened and there are very few in UK collections. We will be caring for these birds, holding them in reserve for when a suitable male becomes available as part of the breeding programme.”

The Andean condor is part of the vulture family and is native to South America. It is the largest flying bird in the world. Janina has been brought to Harewood from Ostrava Zoo in the Czech Republic, whilst Babs arrives from Lotherton on Thursday 31 October, Halloween.

Babs has lived at Lotherton since 2009 and has been a big favourite for both staff and visitors.

Robert Young, Head Keeper at Lotherton says; “We’re so happy Babs is going to a new home not so far away at Harewood. With the species in decline, it is important that we continue our work with the European Endangered Species breeding programme for this species. This exchange is just one of the actions that make up Lotherton’s commitment to conservation and aid in the long-term survival of the species we hold in zoos.”

Condors can live up to the age of 60 and these birds are 26 and 33 years old. Babs has previously had eggs.

Keep up to date with bird stories from Harewood on #TakeoverTuesday @HarewoodHouse