In our fifth episode of Unravel the Arts primary school students interview Oli from Compton Verney.
About Episode #5
Your podcast presenters Ben and David speak to Oli McCall, Curator at Compton Verney.
He works as part of the arts team and is responsible for developing the ambitious programme of exhibitions and collection interventions.
He curates temporary exhibitions of contemporary and historic art, managing these from concept through to delivery. He plans and delivers public events including curator’s tours and talks, and also researches aspects of Compton Verney’s world-class collections.
Oli has previously worked at Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. He studied at the University of Birmingham and has undertaken curatorial internships at the Barber Institute and the National Portrait Gallery.
How to listen
Who is in this podcast?
In this episode you will hear the voices of your hosts, Ben and David, and Oli from Compton Verney.
Full episode transcript
[Oli McCall] My job is to work with artists to kind of help them kind of realise their vision I guess for exhibitions. So I still get to kind of work with them in creative ways which is fun.
[Ben] Do you prefer chocolate milk or normal milk?
[OM] Oh, chocolate milk of course.
[David] That was the answer we were hoping for.
[OM] Yeah, good, good.
[B] Hello, welcome to Unravel the Arts. I’m Ben.
[D] And I’m David.
[B] We’re year 6 pupils at Heathcote Primary School.
[D] And we are members of Shout Out for the Arts.
[B] Shout Out for the Arts as a group of young people and organisations.
[D] Their aim is to give children and the younger generation in Warwickshire, a voice to shout out for access to arts and culture.
[B] We are proud to present our very own podcast series, Unravel the Arts.
[D] On today’s episode, we meet up with Ollie McCall, curator at Compton Verney. Compton Verney is an art gallery in England.
[B] It is housed in Compton Verney house, a restored grade one listed 18th century mansion surrounded by 120 acres of parkland.
[D] We recorded this conversation live whilst the Making Mischief exhibition was worked on. So you might hear some background noise.
[B] The exhibition opens on the 11th of February.
[D] We meet Oli in the gallery space.
[B&D] Let’s get into the interview.
[D] Hello, are you Oli?
[D] I’m David.
[B] And I’m Ben.
[D] Nice to meet you.
[OM] Hello David, nice to meet you. Hey Ben, nice to meet you.
[B] We’ve come to interview you.
[OM] My name’s Oli McCall. I’m one of the curators here at Compton Verney in Warwickshire. So we’re an art gallery with lots of lovely grounds surrounding us as well, as you probably saw on the way in and at the moment, we’re sitting in one of our exhibition spaces and we’re just about to open a new exhibition called Making Mischief, which is all about folk customs that we find in Britain and costume in particular.
So, are there any that you’ve seen that you’re particularly struck by so far?
[D] That one over there, the minehead.
[OM] Oh the hobby horse? That’s amazing, isn’t it? So that kind of parades through the streets of the town. And there’s just a single person under their head kind of pops up through the hat on the top, and it’s really heavy. So, it’s amazing that they carry it and kind of move around and do their hair but lots of these things are kind of, you know, totally animated when people wear them.
The costume that we’ve just been looking at the butterfly wings. If there was someone wearing it, they’d be able to kind of move those and flap the wings as they go along.
[D] I really like the like silver jacket.
[OM] Yeah, that’s a pearly Pearly King jacket. Do you know about the Pearlies? That’s a kind of custom from from London.
It kind of originated with street traders who would sell goods from kind of horse and carts on the streets and then it kind of originated when one of them had this idea to cover a coat in 1000s of little pearl buttons. That was kind of the first Pearly King and he did that to raise money. And so we’ve got some of those costumes as well.
[D] It all looks so real.
[D] Yeah, like it’s been taken from like, back in time or wherever it was.
[OM] To now.
[D] And now it’s here.
[OM] Yeah, well, these things have been kept safe with different archives and museums around the country and they’ve given them to us to display in the show.
We’ve been working with a team of experts from London College of Fashion as well and the Museum of British Folklore, who have been kind of carefully padding these mannequins to make them look more lifelike and real.
So there’s been a real art to it, which has been fascinating. Looks like you’ve got loads of questions there.
[D] And this is only the back side.
[B] He spent the whole afternoon on this.
[OM] Ah wow. I’m honoured.
[D] So would you be able to describe yourself in just three words?
[OM] Myself? Well right now probably a little frazzled. That’s a tough one. Oh I don’t know!
[B] So, talk us through a day in the life at Compton Verney?
[OM] Well, it’s, it’s really varied. There’s lots of different projects that we work on here. So you might have seen that out in the grounds, we’ve got this spectacle of light being installed at the moment.
So at nighttime all the trees and the house will be kind of lit up with lights and music. Then inside we’ve got temporary exhibitions that we work on. So we change these over kind of every three or four months. So that keeps me really busy.
And then also we’ve got collections of artworks downstairs that we look after. So part of my kind of job is to make sure those are cared for, think about how we might display them in new ways. So it’s really varied. No kind of two days are the same but and then talking to people like you about the collections and what we do as well.
[D] Do you consider yourself to be an artist or any artistic?
[OM] No, sadly, not really. When I was a kid, I used to draw a lot and I really enjoyed art at school. I’ve always been interested in art and photography, but sadly not very good at any of that.
So, my job is to work with artists to kind of help them kind of realise their vision, I guess for exhibitions. So I still get to kind of work with them in creative ways, which is fun.
[B] This is just a random question, right now, but do you prefer chocolate milk or normal milk?
[OM] Oh, chocolate milk of course.
[D] That was the answer we were hoping for.
[OM] I don’t really like milk so it would have to be chocolate milk.
[D] Same. Which is your favourite piece of art here at Compton Verney.
[OM] Gosh, there’s loads.
[D] We saw on our way in.
[OM] Lots to choose from. I would probably say we’ve got a really interesting picture in our northern European collection downstairs. It was painted in the 1400s so it’s one of the oldest pieces in the collection. And it shows it’s kind of a biblical or religious scene called The Descent into Limbo and it shows the kind of little finger of Jesus in this like egg of light kind of floating over this really weird and surreal landscape with lots of funny little creatures and things in the background.
So it’s a really weird kind of vision of, I guess the afterlife from a time when, yeah, which is totally different to our own. So it’s just quite an interesting insight I think, into creativity in a very different time.
[B] Yeah, I think we’ll be sure to check that when we go back downstairs.
[OM] Yeah. Do have a look.
[B] If you were a billionaire and you could buy any piece of art in the world, what would you buy and why?
[OM] Oh, that’s a good question. Well, at the moment, I’m working on an exhibition of work by an artist called Louise Bourgeois. Which is really exciting because she was a really important artist who had a really long career. And some of her works include these huge bronze sculptures of spiders, which are really quite creepy. They’re kind of like these alien creatures that have landed, but they’re sort of like eight metres tall by seven across so I probably get a few of those and dot them around the garden I think.
[OM] Scare people off.
[D] Get off the lawn.
[B] No visitors allowed.
[OM] Yeah, absolutely.
[D] If you do support a football club, which one do you support?
[OM] I don’t, sadly.
[D] Yeah, same here.
[OM] But yeah, it’s never been a kind of interest. My dad tried very hard to get me into it, dragged me along to a few matches. I probably have to say Wolverhampton Wanderers if I was pushed to because that’s the team he supports.
[D] What would be your favourite three course meal?
[OM] Oh, that’s a good, well, maybe I can just combine my three favourite things. Maybe I’d kind of start with a fry up. Then fish and chips and maybe finish off with a lasagne.
[D] Lasagne for dessert.
[B] Yeah. Lasagne for dessert.
[B] If it’s just a bit too hot just put a bit of ice cream on it.
[OM] Yeah exactly.
[B] Do you prefer cheese and onion or salt and vinegar crisps?
[OM] Salt and vinegar.
[B] Oh no.
[D] He’s disappointed.
[D] He’s very disappointed.
[B] Very disappointed.
[OM] Oh no. Can’t win them all.
[D] He tried one of my cheese and onion chips today.
[B] Too much onion.
[D] And then he said “what is this?” It’s too much onion.
[B] Too much onion.
[D] It’s too oniony.
[B] It was too much onion. You’ve got to have that perfect balance.
[OM] See I like cheese and onion on a sandwich, but I don’t know something about the crisps just doesn’t do it for me.
[D] What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
[OM] Gosh, well hanging out with my friends and I like to go to exhibitions as well. Which is probably quite sad. I just do the same thing out of work as I do in work.
[D] But that just shows that you love your job.
[OM] Absolutely. It shows I’m doing the right thing. I think.
[B] The perfect thing for you.
[OM] So yeah, visiting museums. I like to go to kind of National Trust places and historic sites, stuff like that.
[D] What is your favourite film?
[OM] Oh, gosh, that’s a tough one. There are loads. I think. Probably if I was gonna say something that I can come back to again and again and watch. It might be one of the Lord of the Rings films. Maybe all three!
[D] That’s good.
[B] I’ve never seen that.
[D] Dad and me watched it a while ago. And also he showed me some YouTube clips of Gollum.
[OM] Yes. That films probably ancient history to you, isn’t it?
[D] Not to me.
[OM] Still feels like recent.
[B] That’s on my watch list now.
[OM] Good. Yeah, you need a spare day to watch them all together. They’re all like 4 hours long.
[D] Including, not including The Hobbit.
[OM] Yeah, exactly.
[B] Tell us about a comedic moment that you’ve had in your working life?
[OM] Oh, guys.
[D] If you’ve had one.
[OM] Yeah, I mean, there’s plenty we kind of have a good laugh in the office, which is always nice.
We’re having a lot of fun with this exhibition, I would say, a nice team with, you know, our mannequins, wrapping them all in brown tape, which is kind of like brown paper and vinegar, kind of giving them all this skin.
[B] Wait, you put vinegar on mannequins?
[OM] No this is just brown sticky tape but it has that kind of look.
[B] So this one here?
[OM] Some of them aren’t. Yes, we’ve got a mixture. The wooden ones are quite nice to keep that way but the others, you know, they were very they had really creepy faces, weird eyelashes and glass eyes. So we had to cover those up!
[B] So you covered that up for child.
[OM] So that was quite fun, walking into a room full of like 50 mannequins.
[D] Some look away.
[B] You’d get scared.
[OM] Eyes following you.
[B] Hide them in the closet.
[B] What do you prefer, tea or coffee?
[OM] I like both but probably coffee right now.
[D] I was saying when you were coming up with this question, when we thought of it and then what do you prefer tea or coffee and then I said well, he’s a man with a job. So I think he prefers coffee.
[D] What was your dream job when you were younger? If you can remember.
[OM] I always wanted to be a teacher. I quite liked the idea of that and then kind of got to uni and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. And then thought, yeah, well I like museums and galleries. So I’ve been lucky enough to kind of make that my career now which is great.
[B] Have you had any other job before this?
[OM] Yeah. I used to work in a library. While I was at university that was my kind of Saturday job, raise a bit, make a bit of money. Then I worked at the university library.
And then I’ve done lots of kind of freelance jobs where I’ve been kind of employed for, you know, maybe six months at a time or short periods of time. On particular projects. I’ve done sort of writing and kind of marketing stuff. So coming up with ideas for social media, putting things on the website, different places and things like that. So yeah, but all really related to art and galleries.
[D] What are the positives and negatives about your job?
[OM] Oh I’d say, positives are the variety. Like I said earlier every day is different.
[D] Doing all these different exhibitions.
[B] There’s loads.
[OM] All of these different things and learning about so many different things. I didn’t know much about different folk customs before doing this exhibition, and now I know a little bit more.
[B] There’s loads.
[OM] Yeah so there’s a lot. And getting to work with lots of different creative people is always really fun. Challenges include, I guess, kind of usually being very, very busy. So often, you know, we’re a very small team and we’ve got lots of ideas and lots of things that we want to do. And so it’s tricky sometimes to figure out, kind of which are the ones that you can really achieve and do well.
[D] Hopefully one of the challenges is just trying to get yourself out of bed.
[OM] Yeah, that’s always a challenge of course.
[B] Outside I just love all those sculptures out there. Do you know if you have anything to do with those?
[OM] Which ones are you thinking of?
[B] That, so there’s one on the way in, which is like really colourful.
[B] It’s almost like you know, at a park and you’d have like giant towers and everything.
[D] At a park.
[OM] Yes. Yeah. So yeah, that was my colleague of mine called Hannah so she worked with an artist called Morag Myerscough on that. And there used to be a village on the site in the Middle Ages, like 1300, called Compton Murdak, and it disappeared. And Morag came up with that design to kind of relate to the sort of history of the village so it almost looks like little houses and things. And all of her stuff is really brightly coloured like that, so.
[B] A bit abstract.
[OM] Yeah. Really abstract.
[D] It’s like one of those paintings you paint like kids see one of the like five year olds paint.
[B] Yeah yeah.
[D] Like of the houses they’d be of all these different colours like the Lego houses which you make which are completely random colours and then someone has copied and pasted it.
[OM] Absolutely there and it was a lot of fun to paint. I think we all chipped in and did a bit. So, we had sheep up in the meadow over the winter.
[D] I saw this.
[B] I remember that cause I’ve been here with my dog and then we were just like trying to.
[OM] Oh good.
[D] Get away from the sheep.
[OM] Oh good, were you chasing them?
[B] No, he wasn’t chasing them. We were just like, try not to step on all the sheep poo.
[OM] Yes, well, that was a problem. We had to have poo patrol to clean the sculpture.
[D] I wanted to ask how long have you been doing this one for?
[B] Well, it looks like it’s been on for a while.
[OM] Why do you say that?
[B] It’s cause it looks like there’s been a lot of progress done.
[OM] Oh yes, well, this is we open tomorrow night. So we’re having like a celebratory event. So everything will be finished by then.
[B] Sneak preview.
[OM] So you’re having a very special sneak preview. But actually I met with Simon and Melanie who are two of the curators that I’m working with on this show on my very first day at Compton Verney. So it was about a year and a half ago probably. So we’ve been working on it since then.
Planning and getting yeah, all that, because all of these costumes are being lent to us by the people that make them and wear them or or museums that look after them if they’re older pieces. So it takes a long time to kind of work out what’s out there that we could borrow and get in touch with all of these people and kind of arrange for it all to be sent to us. So yeah, it’s all been happening for over a year and I think Simon and Melanie have been planning it for even longer than that maybe sort of 10 years. This is their sort of passion and we have a big folk art collection here at Compton Verney in our sort of top floor gallery spaces that you might be able to have a look at. And so that’s partly the reason why we’ve got this exhibition which is all about folk customs here because it relates really closely to that.
[D] It feels like really nice and being able to see all this art when our whole job is here at like school.
[D] And right now when we’re talking to you. We are the art leaders at our school. I don’t have my badge. You don’t have yours?
[B] Mine broke.
[OM] That’s great.
[D] It’s really nice seeing all the different art styles and art stuff.
[B] Because we’re like having a festival fairly soon, so.
[D] A whole week of art.
[B] We’ve just been planning for that.
[OM] That’s brilliant. So do you do both like make art yourselves?
[D] I’m big into drawing.
[B] I like the movie sort of area like animators. I did a few Lego animations back in year 3.
[D] Did you do the sticker bots?
[B] No I did like Lego animations, I did like a Star Wars one, it was really good.
[OM] You’ll have to check back with us because we have lots of kind of workshops and creative events with artists where you can actually get stuck in and kind of make things yourself.
[D] Thank you so much for your time.
[B] Yeah, it’s been a pleasure to hear all about your job and what you do here at Compton Verney.
[OM] Oh, that’s great. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you and yeah, hopefully you get the chance to come back and see the show when it opens.
[D] Thanks Oli for coming on the show.
[B] If you want to get involved or find out more. Visit our website at shoutoutforthearts.co.uk
[D] Look out for more episodes in the series. And until next time, you’ve been listening to me David.
[B] And me Ben and we hope you enjoyed unravelling the arts with us.
[B&D] Catch you later.