Willie Doherty: Buried
First impressions of Buried, a film made especially for Willie Doherty’s exhibition of the same name at The Fruitmarket, indicate that the Northern Irish artist has had a change of subject matter. We see a forest and can hear birdsong and other sounds of nature. As it is beautifully-lit and photographed, viewers could be forgiven for interpreting this as a peaceful scene. Slowly, peculiar details emerge. Why is there barbed wire in the foliage and a loop of wire pulled tight around a tree? Is that a spent cartridge on the ground? The soundtrack also subtly changes: the sounds aren’t entirely natural anymore.
Doherty’s work is deeply ingrained by the legacy of the Troubles. His films and photographs are literally and metaphorically sited within Northern Ireland, and while they do explore universal themes, the repeated specificity of reference to place and events such as Bloody Sunday sometimes inhibit more open interpretations. Photographs of abandoned interiors, or ‘Last Occupant’, an image of the exterior of a very rundown building with lace curtains visible in the only window, gain a more loaded (and potentially tragic) interpretation than a photograph of urban detritus might do if taken in Glasgow, for example.
Doherty’s best work encompasses both specificity of place and a wider resonance: ‘Re-Run’ from 2002 is an excellent example. Shot on the bridge spanning the river that divides the Catholic and Protestant areas of Derry, this double projection places the viewer between two running figures – in fact the same man – running towards us on one screen and away from us on the other. The reason for the man’s flight is ambiguous; his expression doesn’t give us many clues. The film cuts in and out, the pace is frenetic. It is engrossing and exhausting.
‘Ghost Story’, to which ‘Buried’ is designed to be a companion piece, is slower paced and generally less interesting than either other film in this show. The palpable sense of mystery and unspecified menace in ‘Buried’ resonates longer than the measured narrative of ‘Ghost Story’, allowing the viewer more scope to construct their own back-story for the objects left in the woods.
The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 12 Jul