031. Dave Charlesworth

Image © Dave Charlesworth, 2014. 

A conversation with artist and curator Dave Charlesworth following ‘Visions From The Top Of A Maypole’, his solo project at VITRINE Bermondsey Square.

 

Your work for 'Visions from the top of a maypole’ comes from your recently completed residency at the Yorkshire Film Archive. How did this environment inform your working process?

It was quite daunting setting foot in the archive for the first time. There is so much material in there, over a hundred years of film and video from across the Yorkshire region. I had approached the project with the initial hope that I would focus on more contemporary footage framed around the first ten years of my life (1982 - 1992). I wasn’t sure at that stage what the investigation or project would focus on, but starting with those ten years seemed like a good way to frame national and local events from my lifetime that could be seeds for fictional narratives, drawing parallels with my own life events. A kind of essayist technique.

As soon as I got a better understanding of the archive with its database, racks and the wealth of staff knowledge at hand, I realized that there were various impediments to the framework that I had set up. In the ten years of my search period, filmmaking was greatly changed from a format perspective. Fewer filmmakers work working on cine film and more were shooting on video. This means there is a sudden dip in quality and also selectivity. Amateur filmmakers were overnight able to shoot vast quantities of footage without having to do the same level of in-camera editing. Videotape is also vastly less robust from an archiving point of view, far more likely to be copied over and more likely to just get binned as in some ways it seems less precious in comparison to cinefilm. On top of this, the Archives function is to gain as much information about their collections as possible from living sources. As such, theirs is a natural focus for film material from pre-1950, and this is where much of the funding is targeted. It isn’t a failing, it is natural but it threw up an interesting conundrum for me and forced me to reconsider my starting point and more about the structures of the archive.

I became interested in the “The Edit”... This turn of phrase links itself to all of the decisions that led a particular piece of footage to be in a particular place in the archive at a particular moment.

In the end, I chose a framework which allowed me to wander further into the rich material within the archive. I became interested in the “The Edit” which I used in my writing for “Visions From The Top Of A Maypole”. This turn of phrase links itself to all of the decisions that led a particular piece of footage to be in a particular place in the archive at a particular moment - the in-camera edit, the studio edit, the selection and bequest, the choice by the archive to keep the footage, their decision to contextualise it in a particular way and, finally, my decision to look at it and eventually repurpose it. “The Edit” becomes an unseen guide for the way I located and used films, a series of actions over time which continues to inform the creative output of the archive.

 
 

Dave Charlesworth, 'Visions from the top of a maypole’, 2014. Installation Shot, VITRINE Bermondsey Square. Image courtesy of VITRINE.

This body of work specifically explores British folk tradition and culture. Do you consider your practice to be an anthropological one?

There are obviously some British Folk culture gems in the Yorkshire Film Archive. ‘Ower bit bog oil’ by Eric Hall which focuses on an extinct regional sport called Knurr and Spell is a special one, as is ‘The Fall and Rise of Barwick Maypole’ by Leeds Movie Makers. They are things that have passed into time and have either been changed forever or have vanished completely.

I wandered though films that caught my attention, trying in vain to link them together, always returning to ‘The Fall and Rise of Barwick Maypole’, a film shot in May 1978.

The link between the Maypole and my project was a coincidental one. Once the structure I had approached the archive with became unworkable, I wandered through films that caught my attention, trying in vain to link them together, always returning to ‘The Fall and Rise of Barwick Maypole’, a film shot in May 1978. As I began to focus my research on the Maypole, the coincidences that followed were remarkable and the project began to reassemble itself. Barwick lies almost directly between the place of my birth and the film archive in York. The Barwick festivities take place every three years as a celebration of life and fertility, the next Maypole event would be May 1981 which is precisely 9 months before my birth. The village lad who climbed the pole in 1981 was called Walker, the name of a character in a number of my films.

My own interest probably seems like an anthropological process but not one that is necessarily concerned with folk traditions directly. Rather I got drawn into a sort of fictional relationship with Barwick Maypole. And as interesting as the folk traditions are around this structure, it really became a gateway through which I could push beyond the folk images that are synonymous with rural and village life. My focus was equally concerned with the invasion and change of national and military infrastructure within the landscape, the things that when seen now seem dislocated or removed from this time. Radar bases and antennae are as much part of this place as Morris Dancers and Maypoles.

 
 

Dave Charlesworth, 'Visions from the top of a maypole’, 2014. Installation Shot, VITRINE Bermondsey Square. Image courtesy of VITRINE.

You chose to exhibit film stills as part of your installation at VITRINE Bermondsey Square. How do you feel about these works in terms of their status as both individual pieces and elements taken from a larger film work?

The fictional writing that sits alongside the films from the ‘Visions From The Top Of A Maypole’ unfurls some of the more fragmented and dislocated imagery of the films. The narratives that reside in the publication proposes the top of the Maypole at Barwick as a site from which more of the region can be witnessed. Further, it proposes that the climber of the maypole has undergone a series of what I am calling psychic visions, this being the device that links the disparate footage from the archive.

The stills are not presented directly from the film but are photographed from the screens of old CRT monitors, the film is unchanged but it is shot from different angles allowing the perspective to skew. In this way, they begin to suggest a form of mediation between two places, this one and the other. The writings show the protagonists (Walker the climber and myself as a child) viewing each other's world through “The Edit” which is proposed as a constantly shifting viewing portal which appears without notice within their lives.

I see the photographs as separate works and an interesting progression of the process of the edit. They are fleeting views of the film which I have had to select from hundreds of images and reframe to fit a different format. In a way, they could be read as the memories of the characters of the fictional writing but ones that have been reformatted over time becoming squarer, easier to consume, riddled with error, just like memories of events from thirty years ago.

What is coming up next for you?

Next, I will be showing all three films from the previous Walker series at cu•rate at The Cass gallery and I am working towards a project for this summer at Colwick Wood in Nottingham with Ordinary Culture. I am also continuing to develop the programme for my gallery South Kiosk, the next show ‘Chronovisor Archive’ opens on the 14th May.

 

‘Visions From The Top Of A Maypole’ was on display at VITRINE Bermondsey Square and was produced with the kind support of Yorkshire Film Archive and ACE. The project culminated in a series of short films using films from the archive and a collaborative publication between Dave Charlesworth and Charlotte Morgan. For more information, visit VITRINE’s website

For more on Dave Charlesworth’s practice and upcoming exhibitions, see http://www.dave-charlesworth.com