Exhibition at Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau , Germany of slide installations and videos from the start of Willie Doherty’s career in the early 1990s to the present day.
In his (often large-scale) single- and multi-channel videos, Willie Doherty offers political and aesthetic images of Ireland that challenge widespread misconceptions of pristine natural landscapes as well as biased coverage of the Northern Ireland conflict. The voice over in certain works, for instance, switches identity between offender and victim. Doherty’s concern is not so much to tie down events and interpretations as to pinpoint archetypal features of the conflict. The traces of conflict that the videos capture–for instance deserted and wrecked buildings, or roadblocks–are also always viewed ambivalently, both as provocation for and as the consequence of actions. This shifting of perspectives and roles is in keeping with the reception that Doherty’s often dualistically conceived works invite: perception of them is optimal when one moves around the exhibition space, directing attention at one of two screens then at the other.
Doherty’s works have a remarkable ability to reach out beyond the specifically Northern Irish conflict and deal at a sophisticated level with general topics such as the surveillance of public space, mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, and national and religious conflicts. While Doherty’s stylistic devices are wide-ranging, all of his works share a high degree of suggestive visual invention and also the fascinating ambivalence of what at first sight appears to be unambiguous. A seemingly ominous figure, such as the man with shaved head in Non-Specific Threat (2004), for instance, whom the camera circles to the accompaniment of a voiceover, is both active and reactive, fictional and real, past and future. His words invoke situations ranging from menace to intimacy. The man could be a participant in the Northern Ireland conflict, or he could also be a plain human being–a worker, a student, a sportsman.
It is precisely this productive ambiguity that implicates the viewer at a level that is not only emotional but also intellectual, and reveals that those fears of possible violence and the paranoiac projections vis-á-vis the supposedly strange and unfamiliar are by no means confined to Northern Ireland.