project made with the artist Rebecca Lee

commission by The National Trust

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stills from video-essay

Rehearsing Memory, Belton 2015 explores what might mean to commemorate, in the sense of bringing to memory, the broad and complex histories and stories of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) training camp, here in the present. In contrast with traditional monumental commemorations, this project uses a reflective and exploratory approach to address the context and details of the MGC on Belton Parklands, and how it is commemorated and remembered by Belton’s community.  Focusing on Belton now, the artists Belén Cerezo and Rebecca Lee have worked across and within the wide programme of events (archaeological digs, talks, exhibitions, archival research and re-enactments…) that took place at Belton House during summer 2015.

More specifically, some of the issues that artists have tackled are the scale of the camp, the complexity of training for war, the role of memory in imagining the future and the part that Belton park plays in storing memories. This way, Rehearsing Memory, Belton 2015 exceeds historical accounts offering new angles and proposes that memory is an ongoing and active process that also encompasses experience.

Since the beginning of the project we kept in mind Walter Benjamin’s critical discourse on the relation between history, images and the practice of montage. For this thinker, the past is something present and important for the future and artworks can provide glimpses of alternative futures by the juxtaposition of images/sounds from the past and present. Benjamin considers that history is not just knowledge, but also action and practice.

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stills from video-essay

Rehearsing Memory, Belton 2015 is composed of four parts that are presented in different spaces at Belton House, the parkland and beyond. Each of these works functions on its own as well as forming part of a whole, that encourages new reflections not only on the MGC but on how memories and insights are fabricated here in the present.

Part 1 is a moving-image installation that is located within the exhibition at the stables. For this work, the artists with the “research group” of volunteers at Belton re-filmed a soldiers’ group-photograph attempting to bring it to life. This operation of re-filming enables a close look at the soldiers, and transforms a group portrait into individual portraits. This new look at the photograph draws us into deciphering details such as their faces and hands.

Part 2 is an audio-walk that takes place in Belton park, leading from the house to the site of the Machine Gun Corps. The walk explores histories that are stored in and acted out on the park.  Taking in the viewpoints of various members of Belton’s community, historical materials and the experience of the artists in researching the project, the walk is a reflection on remembering and place. By walking, we spend longer in the landscape and new connections are revealed.

Part 3 is a printed artwork that places together the park nowadays with some personal objects that belonged to soldiers and that the families of the machine gunners keep. This printed material is in the form of an “expanded card”, and it has been distributed in local parishes as well as through local organisations and the team of Belton’s volunteers. This piece is divided in two sets that invites people to handle them and experiment with how they view these objects and their context in local history.

Part 4 is a film that is shown in the Billiard Room. Alongside a voice-over that gathers insights and data from diverse sources, this speculative film comprises footage of the park and the trees, footage of documents and photographs from Belton’s archive and documentation of some of activities of Belton’s programme. The film, which adopts a form between a documentary and an essay, by juxtaposing different materials reflects on the stories of the Machine Gun Corps in the Park along with broader ideas regarding memory, and also the very realization of the film.