The Munter Hitch

Video art encounters the great outdoors in Golden Thread Gallery exhibition

Too often, as with many things in life, art is categorised and compartmentalised, each discipline made to stand in its own little corner and not interact with the others. In management speak, it is called the silo mentality. 

In recent years, however, artists have broken out of the confines of their individual disciplines and dared to intermingle. The latest example of this trend is the current offering from Belfast’s Golden Thread Gallery, The Munter Hitch

Dan Shipsides and Seamus Harahan, two of Northern Ireland’s finest contemporary artists, come together to show video works that blur the lines between documentary film making and visual art, offering the viewer an opportunity to walk/climb into their shoes with three very different works. 

The title of the exhibition, taken from the name for a common knot often used by rock climbers (known also as the Italian hitch), informs the first piece on show. Shipsides takes us on a trip through ‘Echo Valley’. Traveling with John, a blind man, together they tackle one of Spain’s toughest climbs. 

As John remarks, despite his blindness he has no fear of climbing: 'It probably helps not to have any idea of what 20 metres looks like from above. As long as it feels safe I enjoy the climbing and I don’t have any fear - it doesn’t come into my mind. The only time I’m scared of heights is in my dreams.'

Shipsides, in turn, explains that, as an artist, the experience of the climb gave him the opportunity of generating new material and ideas. 'It’s important for me to say the project wasn’t about giving a blind person access to climbing - John would have done that if he wanted anyway - but that the project was about finding new ways of working and reflecting this experience as landscape.'

The result is a 32-minute multi-screen video installation screened in real time, which contains close-up footage of John’s fingers seeking out holds as well as wider footage from cameras on his backpack, giving the viewer a sense of the body’s vertical height, balance and movement. Shipsides' accompanying ‘A Guiding Dilemma’ consists of video works, text and photography which explore the wider aspects of the activity: conversations and the fun, human stuff.

Harahan is a Belfast-based artist working primarily with film. For this show he presents two new works, ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Splitting in Two’. 

The first leads viewers through Alexandra Park in north Belfast, following the peace line and its division of neighbourhoods. It is a response to 'On a Beautiful Day’, a film made by artist KP Brehmer in 1969, when he was asked by a friend to retrace a walk along the Berlin Wall and record it on film. Harahan was asked by a fellow artist to do the same through Alexandra Park, given a super-8 camera and one reel of film to do the job. 

His second work, ‘Splitting in Two’, continues the theme of the separation of communities in Belfast, inspired by the lyrics of punk guru Mark Perry.

All three works on show in the Golden Thread not only blur the lines of artistic discipline but also those between perception and reality. Because John cannot perceive height, should he not be cogniscant of its reality? Does our perception of what is on the other side justify the harsh reality of a wall?

Mark Ashby 

The Munter Hitch runs at Belfast's Golden Thread Gallery until April 18.