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Questioning Documentary Narrative | Others’ Stories | Golden Thread Gallery | Belfast

Text by Angela Darby

Others’ Stories collates six artists’ exploration and questioning of documentary narrative. When two people verbally interact, dialogue can go beyond oral communication; facial expressions and body language become part of the exchange of ideas and the meaning attached to them. Curator Peter Richards pointedly asks: “Can you really tell someone else’s story for them… does truth suffer when it is mediated by a third party?” Essentially the interviewer must earn a bond of trust with the interviewee in order to achieve a meaningful discourse between the two parties. It was interesting to observe what techniques, if any, the invited artists adopted in order to gain their subjects confidence.

At the entrance to Gallery One a large impressive image immediately catches your attention and draws you in. The artist John Baucher presents a series of photographs documenting life for the citizens of Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the destruction left by the 2010 earthquake. In Seeking Shade the shadow of a tree looms, specter-like over a devastated landscape. Flanked at both sides of this central image is a series of smaller photographs, projecting a static narrative, each telling a story of resilience in survival and of determination for the future. And how have they achieved this courage in the face of tragedy and adversity? The artist offers up an insight into what might have been responsible in strengthening the citizens’ tenacity. At opposite ends of the wall, two religions sit together; one orthodox and the other syncretic. A large smiling voodoo priest named Oungan optimistically beams into the lens, his religious deity, a skeleton called ‘Baron Samedi’, dressed in the finery of a top hat and suit sits symbolically behind the priest. In the opposing image entitled 8th Station of The Cross a street re-enactment portrays Jesus’ journey to his crucifixion. The conclusion may be that both religions have played a part in reminding the citizens that through pain and hardship, their endurance and belief will achieve a divine recompense.

Performance and lens-based artist Poshya Kakl’s emotive video entitled Textile of Iron is situated in the middle of Gallery One. We learn the heartbreaking fate of many young Iraqi women who have been imprisoned for refusing an arranged marriage. Here the artist becomes an enabler as she presents the detainees with gifts of wool and they in turn present Poshya with their stories as they weave the colourful wool into the prisons wire fence. This unsanctioned act of defiance represents a symbol of inspiring endurance and of remembrance for the incarcerated women. The artist poignantly and effectively facilitates their right to be heard by offering them the opportunity to communicate their feelings toward this harsh form of punishment in a wider context.

Presented on a series of monitors Lesley Cherry’s The Knitted Word Project echoes a similar narrative to Poshya’s Textile of Iron. The knitting circle, which was once a traditional activity among the women in a community, becomes the subject matter for Cherry. We watch mesmerized as hands holding needles and wool work back and forth to create a succession of intriguing words. As the women talk they recall the exploits of female characters that once lived in their area. Cherry cleverly exchanges the sound of the women’s conversation for a male voice-over, spoken in a manner that would have once implied unquestioned authority. We listen to the narrator relaying horrifying tales of domestic abuse and attempted murder in his newsreader voice whilst we watch the women knitting text that relates to the spoken word.

At the backspace in the gallery, we enter a darkened room to find a monitor playing the video confession of a young man who committed patricide when he was just a boy. In Leon the artist Franc Purg also facilitates his subject with the opportunity to relay the history of domestic abuse suffered at the hands of his father. In this quiet blacked out space Leon can privately recount the reasoning behind this tragic act and the consequences of his actions that will affect him for the rest of his life. By illuminating his subject’s ‘set’ with green and red filtered lights the artist introduces a subtle and incongruent artificiality that seems to raise questions over the reliability of subjective exposition.

Throughout the exhibition one is aware of the different forms of communication and documentation employed by the artists to achieve a greater understanding of the subjects’ lives and tribulations. Lisa Byrne’s tense, empathetic and powerful portrayal of the callous murder of two members of the Curran family is filmed as a first-hand account. On three screens family members individually describe the horrifying incident of the cold-blooded murder of the two young brothers. 28th October 1993 is filmed in the family living room; the same place that the murders occurred. As this is revealed through the various versions of the events experienced by the storytellers we become increasingly aware of the whole family’s resilience in the face of this horrendous incident. They refused to move from their family home and have remained there in defiance of the sectarianism that tried to destroy them. Each emotionally confesses their feelings regarding their trauma and at times it is very hard to watch their anguish. Their stories are simply but powerfully conveyed but one wonders if this could possibly offer some form of solace or closure for the family.

Leaving Byrne’s heartrending film installation one is immediately met by the sight and sound of a sobbing woman. Many actors have been employed to convey the experiences of trauma victims and Cecily Brennan’s film Black Tears explores this theme in a striking manner. However, the piece seems strangely disingenuous compared to the harsh reality of Byrne’s subject matter. Paradoxically their positioning side by side may have added greater meaning to both.

Others’ Stories is on show at Golden Thread Gallery Belfast until 1 October.

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Image:
Poshya Kakl – Textile of Iron – Video Still
Courtesy the artist

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