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The art of Randy Thom

 Sound designer (FW35)

The double space of Willie Doherty’s re-run

Maeve Connolly
The double space of Willie Doherty’s re-run

Re-Run (2002) is a silent video installation by Willie Doherty, featuring two looped projections of a lone male figure, endlessly running across the Craigavon Bridge, over the River Foyle in Derry, a location that recurs again and again in Doherty’s work. The same setting is the subject of The Bridge (Diptych) (1992), a photographic piece that marked a move away from Doherty’s signature combination of text and image, and also features in video installations such as Same Old Story (1997) and Control Zone (1999). The real Craigavon Bridge provides both a physical link between two sides of a divided city and a metaphorical function, underscoring the impossibility of constructing a neutral ‘middle ground’ between opposing viewpoints. I will explore Doherty’s most recent video installations as, themselves, bridges between gallery space and represented space.

Given its familiar setting, and thematic exploration of memory and repetition, Re-Run seems a particularly apt choice for Doherty’s second Turner Prize exhibit (he was shortlisted in 1994 but the prize was awarded to Antony Gormley). Doherty first came to prominence in the mid 1980s, with a series of black and white photographs of Derry city and the surrounding landscape, overlaid with text. Early works such as Stone Upon Stone (Diptych) (1986) recall the work of Richard Long or Hamish Fulton but Doherty’s use of text is deliberately loaded and ambiguous. In Stone Upon Stone and God Has Not Failed Us (The Fountain, Derry) (1990), he reproduces statements that are borrowed from nationalist or loyalist sloganeering, undermining the documentary claims of his images. This critique of photographic ‘objectivity’ is often extended through the use of a diptych structure, a doubled image, echoing Derry’s East/West divisions.
It is possible to trace a recurring emphasis on the relationship between landscape, memory and media representation in both Irish art practice and Irish cinema. A considerable number of films set in the North, including Joe Comerford’s Traveller (1981) and High Boot Benny, (1993), Margo Harkin’s Hush-A-Bye Baby (1989) and Pat Murphy’s Maeve (1981), explore the role of memory and media representation in shaping the experience of place. In much of Doherty’s work, however, references to cinema tend to be second-hand. The ‘cinematic’ is, on occasion, filtered through political communications such as the Confidential Telephone advertisements produced by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

As Martin McLoone has noted, the NIO campaign of 1993 was characterised by high production values and a heightened sense of drama; McLoone even points out that a Canadian friend visiting the North, misread one advertisement as a trailer for a new feature film entitled Confidential Telephone.1 These ‘micro-narratives’ also employed voiceover, and careful cinematography, to disrupt the usual signifiers of nationalist or loyalist identity. Doherty’s video installations borrow many of the same conventions, extending the exploration of subjectivity and spectatorship instigated in the photographic works through the juxtaposition of image and sound. His examination of synchronisation in several works, also recalls the censorship procedures instituted by the British and Irish governments in order to restrict broadcast coverage of ‘proscribed’ organisations.