Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Remains of the Day

Willie Doherty – Requisite Distance at The Dallas Museum of Art
Artist talk and exhibition
Through August 30

Willie Doherty’s photography and film are both attractive and unsettling. The feeling of his work is like a fairytale where a child is chasing a mysterious creature through a forest and while the audience knows it won’t end well they can’t turn away.

It would be difficult to talk about this work without mentioning the history of Willie Doherty’s hometown, Derry in Northern Ireland. The clashes in Northern Ireland were based on a schism between loyalists who aligned themselves with English rule and were often of protestant faith versus separatists who sought independence and were often Catholic. As a child Mr. Doherty bore witness to the fight between the separatists and loyalists known as Bloody Sunday, the effects of which remain influential.

Living a life in harm’s way often gives rise to fantasy as a means of escape. In the movie Pan’s Labyrinth by Spanish director Guillermo del Toro a child is faced with things that are beyond her years, the Spanish civil war and a sadistic stepfather. Her escape comes from visions within the natural world. Although the relationship is beneath the surface a parallel exists between the visions in Pan’s Labyrinth and Willie Doherty’s film Ghost Story.

Within the narrative of Mr. Doherty’s film, supernatural visions referred to as a “daylight wraith” appear. The wraith figure is an apparition whose presence indicates an impending or recent death. The romantic vision of Ireland’s landscape in the fading light of dusk acts as both to lend an unsettling mood and a separation from the dearth of documentary work that has taken place to report on the fighting in Derry.

The texts that Mr. Doherty has put together in Ghost Story reflect the violence and supernatural in poetic vignettes. Irish actor Stephen Rea narrates Ghost Story, and his delivery in combination with the words transform scenes of Irish landscape.

To hear Willie Doherty speak about his work it becomes clear that a sense of honesty is paramount. An honest portrayal of his home and experience is central to his mindset, but the humanity of loss and escape takes the mind to other, sometimes uneasy places.

No comments:

Post a Comment