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Ambitious artwork shines new light on backyard cricket

Arts & Culture

Trent Parke and Narelle Autio’s latest artwork is the culmination of a labour-intensive project involving their two sons, one film camera and hundreds of hours of backyard cricket.

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The Summation of Force, a multi-channel video work, opens tomorrow at the Samstag Museum of Art and takes up the entire ground floor of the gallery, creating what Parke describes as an “immersive experience”.

Shot at night in high-contrast black and white, often in slow-motion, the film has a surreal quality with powerful imagery that captures the intensity and competitive spirit of cricket, from backyard games through to professional contests.

It is the South Australian photographer couple’s first venture into moving image, and was inspired by their family’s sporting interests.

“Our boys [Jem, 12, and Dash, 10] are very keen cricketers and their questions about the physics of the game – for example, ‘How come some people can bowl faster than others?’ – led us to film them in slow motion,” Autio says.

“The footage was in itself very revealing and sparked an idea about the involvement of children in sport and the progression to elite sport.”

From The Summation of Force, by Trent Parke and Narelle Autio

Parke, whose last major exhibition was The Black Rose at the Art Gallery of SA, used to play cricket himself before his photography career took off, and he spent five years covering Australian Cricket team tours as a sports photographer.

Now that Jem and Dash are playing for school and district clubs, he is involved in coaching juniors, while Autio scores for weekend games.

“It’s really a family affair,” Parke says.

“We’re totally immersed in the sport at this period of our lives, and we’ve always found inspiration in what’s affecting us at that moment in our lives.”

In preparation for filming, they spent months transforming their own small backyard into a set, including painting everything black or dark aubergine, rigging up lighting and reinforcing the boarders with netting.

The netting didn’t entirely work, but luckily they’ve got good neighbours, who happily return buckets of balls and don’t get too upset by a broken window.

Filming took place over more than 140 nights during autumn and winter in 2016 and 2017.

Some scenes – such as the one in the video trailer showing Dash running through the rain under a Hills Hoist – were shot over and over again until Parke and Autio were satisfied with the result. A single coin toss took eights hours to shoot.

“For the last act we used hundreds of small LED lights that had to be turned on one at a time, including light suits we made for the boys,” Parke says. “This in itself could take several hours before we could film and that particular process took months to shoot.”

There is just one piece of animation in The Summation of Force; all the other effects were created with a single camera, painstaking filming processes, and a little ingenuity – such as using dry ice in a wheelbarrow to create a deep-space-like impression.

“Even though we are using moving image, it’s very much an extension of how we work anyway, using light and shadow to hide and reveal things,” Autio says.

The couple collaborated with a sound effects professional and musician, and partnered with filmmaker Matthew Bate and Closer Productions to take their film “to the next level”.

While the work was filmed almost entirely in the backyard, it explores the much broader world of cricket, from those friendly kids’ games, through to more competitive clashes, selection processes, and the pressure and intensity of the professional game. There are also scenes referencing events involving cricket stars, such as Brett Lee practising sprints with a parachute strapped to his back.

The resulting film is about 30 minutes in total, with five chapters in the story.

“It is an ambitious multi-channel video project that pitches competitive sport and the mythical power of cricket as a metaphor for life and parenthood,” Samstag director Erica Green says.

Autio describes the creation of The Summation of Force as an “epic adventure”. And while it is the couple’s first foray into film, it may not be their last.

“We’ve shot photographs for over 20 years now and this is another way of telling a story,” she says.

“It’s very interesting and exciting … we practised and learned on our feet. So definitely I think there’s other things to do with it.”

Meanwhile, all that practice is paying off for Jem and Dash, who are both playing for South Australia at the upcoming national indoor cricket championships. And that backyard pitch – which Parke says looks like “the Adelaide Oval of our suburb” – isn’t likely to disappear any time soon.

“Just last week our neighbour collected 75 balls from his roof.”

The Summation of Force, by Trent Parke and Narelle Audio, in association with Closer Productions and the Adelaide Film Festival, will be at the Samstag Museum from June 30 until September 1.

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