Venice Biennale Comes to Belfast

Golden Thread Gallery hosts Willie Doherty's acclaimed 'Ghost Story' video piece. Click Play Audio for a podcast with the artist

The camera pans past trees and mildewed shrub land, turns and continues along a deserted country lane. Emanating from speakers hidden from sight, a disembodied voice speaks of wraiths and shape shifters.

What eyes peers through the trees? What dreadful secrets lie buried in Northern Ireland's green and perhaps not so pleasant land?

Ghost Story is a chilling yet remarkably peaceful video installation by artist Willie Doherty, originally commissioned to represent Northern Ireland at the 2007 Venice Biennale exhibition. It appears in Belfast's Golden Thread Gallery alongside Gerard Byrne's video piece ZAN-*T185, which represented Ireland at the same event.

Whilst Bryne's ZAN-*T185 focuses on the sensual relationship between the interviewer and the 'Ghost Story', by Willie Dohertyinterviewee, pitting a silk-tongued female journalist against a self-obsessed fictional Hollywood A lister, Doherty's Ghost Story alludes to the turbulent and violent recent history of Northern Ireland.

'It builds on some of the concerns I've had in my work over the last number of years,' Doherty told CultureNorthernIreland.

'I was interested in taking the form of a traditional ghost story. I think Ireland is a place that's full of old ghost stories ... stories about the landscape itself. So I married that idea with the idea of the trauma of the post-Troubles era. 

'On the one hand we're asked to forget about that, and on the other hand people still need time to process that and deal with it.' 

Born in Derry in 1959, Doherty first came to prominence in the 1980s when he exhibited a series of photographic works overwritten with text, including The Walls, Fog: Ice and Sever/Isolate.

These works, as with his subsequent photographic and video works, explore the complexities of living in a divided community, and refer to the undercurrent of fear, oppression and uncertainty that was the daily experience of life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Doherty has been short listed for the Turner Prize twice, in 1993 and 1994.

Roisín McDonough, chief executive of the Arts Council, expressed her delight that Doherty's Venice Biennale entry had finally made it Northern Ireland:

'The Venice Biennale offers a barometer for gauging the quality of a nation’s visual arts in relation to the rest of the world.

'ZAN-*T185', by Gerard Byrne'The exhibitions by Willie Doherty and Gerard Byrne made such a strong impression over there last year that few would now question that the arts from this island stand comfortably shoulder to shoulder with the best visual art currently produced anywhere in the world. Their work, brought together in this special exhibition in Belfast, gives us a taste of the excitement that these shows created in Venice.'

Colm McGivern, director of the British Council, echoed McDonough's praise for both artists:

'Willie Doherty and Gerard Byrne are strong cultural ambassadors for the island of Ireland, and we’re delighted to bring home from Venice the work that represented Ireland, north and south, at the Biennale last year. I know that people will enjoy the challenges of this work and simultaneously feel proud of what it says about the thriving visual arts environment here.' 

Venice at gtGallery runs in the Golden Thread Gallery from May 20 to July 23.