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False Memory is an excellent
introduction to the installation art and photography of Northern Ireland artist
Willie Doherty. Born in 1959, Dohertys
work focuses on the representation of the political struggles and violence in
Ireland and Northern Ireland. Many of
his pieces depict the border between the two countries. He raises issues about
the contested representation of events and the social construction of
identity. Like a great deal of
contemporary art, the main focus of his approach is conceptual, but its clear
that Doherty is skilled in his creating an emotionally powerful physical
environment for his ideas in his installations, and his photographic images
often are aesthetically attractive.
While he is not advocating a partisan view of the struggles, his work is
suffused with a clear passion, and that makes it easier to relate to than some
of the more abstract and alienating work of his peers.
The book starts with two short
illustrated essays on Dohertys work, by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and
Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith. Both authors
are knowledgeable about Dohertys work and link it to a variety of intellectual
and artistic movements of the twentieth century. Their discussion of Dohertys work is helpful in providing
context and explanation for his central ideas, and they are well worth reading. Much of Dohertys early photographs from the
mid-1980s suggest the influence of Barbara Kruger in their combination of words
or phrases on top of photographic images, creating an ambiguity or altered
sense of meaning. Many of Dohertys
works are in the form of paired photographs (diptychs), and clearly one of his
main preoccupations is the possibility of complementary or opposing binary
interpretations of images or events.
While Kruger is primarily concerned with gender and its representation,
Doherty deals with the history of a political struggle in a geographical
location, and many of his photographs show scenes of Derry and the River
One admirable feature of False
Memory that is possibly attributable to its designer Karen Wilks is the way
that installations that combined multiple video images and voices are
represented on paper. The peoples
words are printed on the alongside the images, and although of course it does
not replicate the original experience, it does help to give some hint of the
desired effect. The scattering of text
and pictures on the page conveys some sense of the variety and non-linearity of
Dohertys installations. For example,
the 30 second continuously looped piece Re-Run (2002) shows to moving images,
one of a man in a dark suit and tie running towards the viewer down a long
tunnel lit in red, and the other of the same man short from the other
direction, moving away from the viewer.
We see the two large screens with the video images projected onto them
in the original gallery, but the next page has multiple images from the piece
laid out in a four by five grid, bit with several of the boxes in the grid left
empty. This heightens the sense of
movement and urgency in the images.
Dohertys work fits in well with trends
in cultural studies, questioning the popular representation of events and
heightening our awareness of aspects of the news that are generally not
included in most news reporting. He
shows the aftermath of violence and the problematic status of memory; his
approach is intelligent and accessible, and has the potential to appeal to a
wide audience. This is an impressive
collection of work, showing that Doherty deserves to be better known.
© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the
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