Thursday, 21 March 2013


Trapped. That's what it feels like. You are contained within a blacked-out room with only a sliver of light from the video screen, and in front of you is an empty road. You can see no end and no escape,  You feel yourself being silently driven along it at a slow, meditative pace.

A flat, mournful voice speaks to you of wraithes and ghosts, of people and places with a significance far beyond what we can see or hear.The words are part real, part surreal. You catch a snatch of narrative - a group pursued into a fence by an armoured vehicle and being tossed into the frosty air; the next day heavy tyre tracks were left, now fixed in hoar frost.- and there the story ends.  

And when you leave the gallery and walk out into Pimlico's daylight again, the world looks different. Willie Doherty's concern is with the political conflicts of Northern Ireland,. specifically in his home town of Derry, and this particular work is part landscape, part film noir and part surveillance camera. It's about ghosts, about memory, about the way in which places hold significance far beyond what we can see or hear.What happens to the pain and terror when it is over? Can others sense it? Does it leak into the buildings and the ground?.

 Canon Giles Goddard, preaching at St Johns Waterloo, heavily bombed with casualties during WW2, hignlighted one phrase from the commentary 'as if the surface of the road was no longer thick enough to conceal the contents of the tomb that lay beneath the whole city'. Giles continues 'the artist is talking about how much there is in our worlds which is unspoken, and often unacknowledged – partly because we don’t have the space or the capacity to keep remembering, and so we file things away in our memories and leave them there. But they are still there – the buried things, the sadnesses, the tombs. Under this church, there are people buried. And for all we know, there may be others, buried in Roman times, or since then….  Because there’s a whole history, around us, of life and death, of laughter and forgetting'.

When I visited this work for a second time, a bunch of primary  school children from the Isle of Wight suddenly broke the silence. They quickly and quietly settled on the floor and the benches, then moved off - their teacher told me later they had a tight schedule. So the room was empty again, and still. I patted the bench beside me and was glad to be reminded of a human presence which had been there.
T S Eliot 's poem Burnt Norton says it all
..human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Willie Doherty was twice short-listed for the Turner prize. This work is part of a brilliant exhibition at Tate Britain entitled LOOKING AT THE VIEW,  open until June 2nd. The link is below

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