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Behind the Scenes

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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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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Re-packing for delivery

Collections team packing Since March this year Harewood has been home to 26 of the most exciting British-based makers and creators, as part of the inaugural Harewood Biennial, Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters.

Our role in the Collections Care team is to safely remove all the installations from across the State Floor and Below Stairs, before packaging each piece for transportation and sending back to the makers who kindly lent them for the exhibition.

Moving the objects around the House is in itself a complex job, as each one must be handled carefully and we must work around the visitor hours to the House, which remains open during this time. You can see in this image of blacksmith Leszek Sikon’s garden tools (cleverly created from old Second World War ammunition) how we have created “nests” from packing blankets and tissue paper, to protect the pieces ready for delivery. When re-packing, the team aims to reuse as much material as possible, in order to reduce waste. However, we have to ensure that there are no rips in any tissue or foam, or any deflated bubble wrap, as these could lead to objects being damaged in transport if they are bumped or knocked. Leszek’s pieces need additional protection on the sharp edges,  to make sure they don’t cause damage to the other items in the package.

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Behind the Scenes of Harvest Festival

HarvestFestival_HarewoodSenior Engagement and Projects Manager Zoe White is busy laying out the sunflowers.

‘Whilst the sun is shining and casting a golden light across Harewood and its surroundings, it’s more difficult to appreciate that the season is about to be in full change mode, and to mark this moment, we’re celebrating this weekend with Harvest Festival.

Traditionally a time to reap the benefit of the hard-working Walled Garden, the vegetables are in abundance and we’ve never seen such a strong crop of potatoes and beans. The Walled Garden is one of the oldest working gardens on the estate. It dates back to the 1700s and has endured intensive use and continuous change throughout its long history, including feeding the local community soldiers in the converted auxiliary hospital during the First and Second World Wars.

My role at Harewood is to create weekends such as this, which will not only bring visitors to Harewood, but also enhance their visit, encourage them to stay all day and then hopefully they will return time and again. We’ve decorated the Courtyard with flowers and garlands, which look lovely, the space is set and ready for the Makers to arrive on Saturday and Sunday and run their Makers’ Market, and the family activity trails are ready to run. You might be pleased to hear that we never like to waste anything and if we can re-use items from previous exhibitions of collections, then we will. So we’ve dusted off the sunflowers that formed part of the Yellow Drawing Room scene from Christmas last year, created by Artistic Director, Simon Costin. Over 100 sunflowers with their burst of yellow look incredible in the sunshine and have really lifted the space. We’re feeling in the festive mood already.

There is also a special event on each day:

Saturday – Lantern Walk with the Rusticus Theatre Company
Sunday – the fantastic Hope & Social perform live and then deliver a special Singing Workshop. If you haven’t seen them yet, they are well worth the trip.

There are also cookery demonstrations in the Old Kitchen and a Gardens Walk and Talk each day at 2pm.’

Follow @HarewoodHouse on social media to keep up to date with all the details across the weekend.