Associated Press Writer
DALLAS (AP) — An exhibit of works by an artist from Northern Ireland explores his country's violent past and examines how those memories affect people today.
"Willie Doherty: Requisite Distance" brings together for the first time his 15-minute film "Ghost Story," completed two years ago, and 11 photographs he took in the 1990s. The exhibit opens Sunday at the Dallas Museum of Art and runs through Aug. 30.
The photographs often juxtapose Northern Ireland's sumptuous green landscape with reminders of "The Troubles," such as blockades on border roads or a derelict car on a country road.
The film, narrated by Belfast actor Stephen Rea, transports the viewer back to the present. The unseen narrator seems to be struggling with memories as he touches upon troops firing into a fleeing crowd and the discovery of a body. Images include a long, lonely road through a menacing forest and a figure waiting in a dark city underpass.
"I was interested in how I could make a piece of work on the impossibilities of forgetting the past," Doherty said.
As the situation in Northern Ireland stabilized in the late 1990s, Doherty was struck that the people still had to deal with the memories.
"As a population, we'd been asked to forget and move on," he said.
"It's not easy to turn something on and off like a tap."
Charles Wylie, who curated the exhibit, said the film plays with the notion of having a sense of things around you that can't actually be seen. He said it isn't clear if one person is telling a story or if perhaps the narrator is sharing the views of multiple people.
The photographs — which have no human subjects — seek to place the viewer in the scene.
"The viewer is asked to speculate what happened before and what happened next," Doherty said.
Wylie said that quality drew him into the 1994 photograph "The Outskirts," which shows the sun setting on a country road lined with reeds and a line of car tracks in the foreground.
He said the tracks "suggest the idea of 'something happened here.'"
Doherty said he was intrigued by Wylie's idea of presenting the film and the photographs together, and in the process showcasing the rapid changes in Northern Ireland life over the past decade or so.
"It was a curatorial masterstroke to put these two together," Doherty said.
Doherty, who is 50, said he still lives in the Northern Ireland city where he grew up — and its name is symbolic of the wider, still deeply ingrained divisions in his homeland.
Doherty and most of the city's Irish Catholic majority call it Derry, but the British Protestant side insists using its full legal name of Londonderry, reflecting its medieval links with English colonists who dispossessed the Catholic natives.
He was 10 when "The Troubles" intensified with the eruption of violence between Protestants and Catholics. More than 3,600 people were killed in the following three decades until paramilitary cease-fires took hold.
Doherty said the photographs depict actual scenes he came across in the 1990s near Derry. The film represents his attempt to explore the memories that still live with the people of Northern Ireland, even after the Good Friday peace accord of 1998.
The exhibit will travel to the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame in fall 2010.
On the Net:
Dallas Museum of Art, www.dallasmuseumofart.org
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.