Using SP-ARK to aid essay writing

I’m a second year film student at QMUL and as part of a module I take called ‘Film, Literature and Adaptation’ we are studying Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. The focus of study was on the way Potter as a filmmaker approached the task of transferring Woolf’s literary text to the screen, and what it could be argued was lost or gained in this transfer. We were asked to think about the intertextual nature of the film, and to construct a pathway on SP-ARK that reflects that idea.

I thought it best to focus on one specific theme within the book and concentrate on the way Sally Potter had attempted to portray this theme in the visual medium of film. I chose to focus on the theme of gender because it is such a prominent theme in both works, but also because the book portrays gender as a physical trait that does not change Orlando’s essential character – a concept which is takes on a very different form in a visual, rather than literary, medium.

I started off by just browsing through the different categories on SP-ARK, getting a feel for the site and the sort of information it provides. I looked at some of Potter’s notes, images collected by her for research, extracts from the book and storyboards. Each item on the site is ‘tagged’ at the side with various themes that you can click on to be taken to other items that relate to the same theme.  I noticed that a page of Sally Potter’s notes was tagged with the word ‘gender’ so I clicked on that and was redirected to a whole range of related resources.

From there I browsed through looking for items that related to the visual portrayal of gender. I wanted to talk about the casting of Tilda Swinton as Orlando so I picked two photos of her taken in the same room, one where she is dressed as male Orlando, and one where she is female Orlando, added them to my pathway, and typed up the ideas I had about the images. I also found an image of Quentin Crisp in costume as Queen Elizabeth I, which let me to think about the significance of his career in that casting decision. I continue to browse through the site, jumping through different themes by using the tags, finding photos, videos, notes and drawings which helped generate new ideas about the concept I was addressing.

Once I had finished my pathway I decided to look at some pathways created by other people that related to the same ideas. Looking through them gave me more ideas to link back into my own and led me to other item I hadn’t seen before. With all the information and ideas I had created I was ready to write the essay that were requested to submit with the pathway. I was able to refer directly to specific resource materials in my essay and to talk about the process that Sally Potter had been through as a filmmaker to transform the book into the film, something that would not have been possible without the site.

An introduction to SP-ARK from Sophie Mayer

Here at Adventure Pictures there have been a lot of new beginnings – a new website, a new film (underway) and a new and improved SP-ARK. As we focus on the future developments of SP-ARK it is important to look back at where it began. I have copied below a blog post the talented writer, poet and all round person extraordinaire Sophie Mayer wrote in her role as Education Consultant on SP-ARK starting back in 2006.

The first film that Sally Potter ever exhibited publicly – in London in 1968, ten years before Thriller made its first appearance – was the backdrop to a dance piece called Daily. A very early example of multimedia in live performance, it was, though, more than a backdrop. It showed the dancers in ‘daily’ acts in their houses, like cleaning and watering plants. On stage, the same dancers repeated the gestures shown on the film, interacting with their screen avatars. Potter produced something similar, albeit on a larger and more complex scale, for Combines (1972), a legendary piece by Richard Alston’s Strider company, of which Potter was a founding member. Blown-up Polaroids of the dancers in rehearsal dominated the stage and projected behind them was looped rehearsal footage repeating single gestures.

At the end of the film there is a sequence that stands out: no longer focused on the dancers in the rehearsal space, it shows bodies jostling as they climb the stairs. In a witty echo of the iconic opening scene of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, in which the balletomanes and opera lovers race each other up the stairs at Covent Garden, the final sequence of Combines impossibly shows the show’s audience rushing in. Potter went on to experiment with using CCTV camera relays within live performance, an experiment that reached its apex in Carmen at the English National Opera in 2007, where Carmen first appears projected onto a scrim over the stage as she looks up into a CCTV camera located outside the Coliseum, the ENO’s home theatre.

For that production, Potter’s team and ENO Interactive built an innovative mini-site (including video clips that provide a complete education in how to stage an opera) But the Carmen site was only one strand of Potter’s commitment to outreach and interactivity. The latest move to bring the audience onscreen, as at the end of Combines, is a site called SP-ARK, the Sally Potter Online Archive. Just as a glimpse at the Carmen site could show you how to audition a chorus or do a sitzprobe, SP-ARK uses the materials from Potter’s private archives to provide an A to Z of filmmaking.

Now in its first phase of development, the SP-ARK site hosts just a fraction of the available material for Orlando and that’s still over 2500 individual items, from early idea’s for the film through multiple drafts of the screenplay to continuity sheets showing how the finished film came together. And being a filmmaker’s archive, it’s multimedia, with video rushes, set photography and screen tests.

But unlike other online archives, this is not just a gallery of documents and objects but an interactive project designed to bring together filmmakers, film scholars and film viewers. The really innovative aspect of SP-ARK is that it pulls together the ability of Web 2.0 to host and stream multimedia and its social networking capabilities, allowing you to tag and blog your way around the site, as well as commenting on blogs by other users, who may be senior academics, Potter’s collaborators (such as composer and musician Fred Frith), students or fans. SP-ARK is developing a unique kind of linked blog called a pathway, where you can attach notes to a series of objects you’ve chosen from the archives. You can see the pathway idea being piloted– with Post-It notes, pushpins and string – by some brave and intrigued MA students from the Department of Media and Communications at London University’s Goldsmiths College, which is collaborating on testing of the SP-ARK prototype.

What that workshop showed is that new media is creating exciting new ways of thinking and organising information, in which audio-visual resources and the reader/user/viewer are coming closer together – something which Re:frame also builds on. It’s something that Potter’s work has explored with audiences and performers since Combines. Now SP-ARK takes this a step further by allowing its users, wherever they are in the world, to interact either by chance encounters when their pathways overlap or via a dedicated messaging system.

Re:frame’s users have an exclusive opportunity to become a part of this next-generation interactive audience for Potter’s work by contributing to the beta-testing of SP-ARK. You can sign up for a username and password by emailing beta@sp-ark.org. And the rest, as Orlando might point out, will be history!

An early layout for SP-ARK

(Welcome) Back to the Future

Work on SP-ARK, the Sally Potter online archive, is now underway, with material and virtual archives starting to happen simultaneously, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London.

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Goldsmiths Workshop Video

“The SP-ARK vision of Social Learning gives us a glimmer of the future today. Instead of locking archive materials away and restricting availability, it promises ready access to anybody anywhere with a computer and the internet.

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