Seamus Harahan & Miriam de Búrca
17 June – 19 July, 2008
Spencer Brownstone Gallery is delighted to present 'AWingBigCell', a new multi-screen video installation by Irish artists Seamus Harahan and Miriam de Búrca.
'AWingBigCell' is based upon footage recorded at the site of the notorious H-Blocks at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. Location of mass internment without trial in the 1970's, and the 1981 Hunger Strikes, the prison was finally closed in 2001 as the Good Friday Agreement's prisoner release program, and ongoing ceasefires by the paramilitary groups at the center of the country's 30 year conflict, rendered it part of history.
As the current fate of the prison remains embroiled in political arguments for demolition or preservation as monument to conflict resolution, Harahan and de Búrca have gained access to the site and recorded film and video footage that is edited into a three-part, three-channel projection. We see imagery taken from the side and rear windows of a van as it passes through the prison compound, its split-screen format reflecting the respective footage of the two artists. The film then moves inside the prison buildings, through the cells, hospital, and surveillance rooms, much of it having the ghostly appearance of being suddenly abandoned in mid-use. Finally, the footage explodes into a fragmentary series of clips, orchestrated over the three projections, where any purported objectivity to the artists' camerawork finally dissolves in a phenomenological head-spin of details, glimpses, and half-caught impressions.
As with the their respective solo practices (including Harahan's 'Holylands', which was seen at Spencer Brownstone Gallery in 2005), we have a sense of a documentary process radically unhinged from the conventions of reportage through which Northern Ireland has for so long been filtered. There is an elliptical, questioning quality to their approach, here typified by the use of New Order track '5.8.6' to accompany part of the piece. On the one hand, it can be read as a straightforward layering of the visuals with music contemporaneous with some of the most tumultuous events of the prison's history - its repeated refrain I heard you calling seeming to invite an empathetic relationship to the imagery. Ultimately, however, the artists' use of music does not help us to locate ourselves vis-à-vis what we are looking at, but rather seems to add another layer, pushing us away, making us aware of and question our own desire to have easy answers provided for us.
Harahan and de Búrca instead leave us in a state of limbo, where the open wound that the prison represents is suspended between the desire for total erasure and the need to historicize and 'move on'.
Seamus Harahan has this year been featured in solo presentations at the ICA in London, and MuHKA, Antwerp. In 2005, he had his first solo show at Spencer Brownstone Gallery and represented Northern Ireland at the Venice Biennale.
Miriam de Búrca has recently been featured in 'Dogs Have no Religion' at the Czech Museum of Fine Art, Prague; and 'The Belfast Way' at Herzilya Museum of Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv. Both artists have received Masters degrees from the University of Ulster, de Búrca is currently completing a practice-based PhD at the same University.
They both live and work in Belfast.