Page last updated at 07:30 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Artist inspired by surveillance

By Bryce McGarel
BBC News

Willie Doherty
Willie Doherty's work is on display at the Ulster Museum

Willie Doherty may not consider himself a "professional Derry person", but growing up in Northern Ireland's second city has had a considerable influence on his art.

Since first coming to prominence in 1985, Doherty has gone on to become one of Northern Ireland's most successful artists.

He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1994 and 2003 and also represented Northern Ireland at the Venice Biennale in 2007, an event which is billed as the world's most prestigious visual art festival.

Ghost Story, the work he created for the festival, is going on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast for the first time this Friday as part of their exhibition of contemporary Irish art.

Doherty has also been asked to curate a series of films for the Queen's Film Theatre to coincide with the exhibition.

Born in Derry in 1959, there is no doubt that growing up in a city he describes as being "constantly under surveillance" has had an effect on the work he produces.

"I grew up in Derry and certainly at that point in the 70s and 80s we had a level of surveillance that wasn't experienced elsewhere.

"You were very conscious as a citizen walking around the city that you were being watched. And for someone working with a camera there is the possibility of returning the gaze.

'Daily grind'

"I was trying to make work from the perspective of someone who lives there.

"So for me, the daily grind of the place, the continual presence of surveillance was part of the landscape."

It has been said that Doherty has spent his professional career making art about the Troubles, however, this is something he does not necessarily agree with.

"I don't really think about making a piece about the Troubles, it's more that I'm interested in the kinds of images we make of ourselves and the kind of images that surround us," he said.

"I see the work I make as a kind of parallel to the work of the media.

"I was always critical of journalists being parachuted in for a couple of days getting their stories or pictures and then they are out again and onto the next one."

Screen shot from Re-run
Doherty's piece entitled Re-run was nominated for the Turner Prize

The centrepiece of the Ulster Museum's Visions exhibition is Doherty's work, Ghost Story.

It has been described as a study of Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement and is said to challenge the political desire to bury the past.

However, Doherty says that the themes behind the piece can be linked to other landscapes and conflicts where people have been traumatised by their situation.

"Ghost Story is a work about landscape, as much as it is about the particular landscape of the north of Ireland," he said.

"It is just one of the ways in which the peace process has been worked out.

"On the one hand, we are being asked to move on and kind of forget about the past, but obviously if you are someone who has lost a relative, or you perceive yourself to be a victim of some sort, it might be difficult to just move on.

"I think the physiological trauma that people have suffered has not really been fully worked out."

Celebrity culture

The films Doherty has selected for the QFT also have the issue of surveillance as one of their underlying themes.

Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, Elephant by Alan Clarke and Red Road by Andrea Arnold are included in the series of eight films he has chosen.

"I like all kinds of films, but I thought that maybe for the purpose of this, I need to try and select a group of films that are more thematically connected and (surveillance) is one of the recurrent themes," he said.

"I think now more people feel the effects of living in a state where you under constant surveillance and how that infiltrates through all aspects of your life.

"As an internet user, usage is being monitored and how people interact with sites like facebook. They also post their lives on the internet.

"I guess one of the elements of it is a celebrity culture that people want to participate".

"One of the films I have included in my selection is one from Warhol, an early film 'Blowjob', which is about a particular kind of looking.

"I think one of the things Warhol was really interested in was his obsession or his dealing with celebrity culture and I think that drives how people interact with the internet and grabbing their 15 minutes of fame."

Doherty's work will be displayed as part of the "Visions" exhibition at the Ulster Museum from 26 March until autumn 2010.

His film series will be shown at the QFT from 26 March - 1 April.

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Turner nomination for NI artist
29 May 03 |  Northern Ireland

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