Willie Doherty pitches it close to home with pop-up museum show in Derry-Londonderry

By Mark Sheerin | 03 December 2013

Exhibition preview: Willie Doherty: UNSEEN, City Factory Gallery, Derry-Londonderry, until January 4 2014

Colour film still showing an abandoned car in flames
Willie Doherty, Remains (2013)© Video still courtesy Willie Doherty; Alexander and Bonin, New York; Kerlin Gallery, Dublin; Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich; Matt's Gallery, London; and Galeria Moises Perez de Albeniz, Madrid.
Worlds have collided for art star Willie Doherty. The professional world he inhabits has now come to his doorstep, namely the remote city where he lives and works from: Derry-Londonderry. But as you will know, Derry is the 2013 City of Culture; it is hosting this year’s Turner Prize and it staging a major show by the local photographer and filmmaker.

Robin Klassnik, who represents the artist through Matt’s Gallery, sounds excited about the install in a rented building above VOID gallery on the West bank of the River Foyle. The London curator has teamed up with Pearse Moore, from local media-hub Nerve Centre, to bring home Doherty in some style.

“The space had been totally transformed,” he tells me via phone. “It’s a superb pop up museum space which, from reports I've had, because I haven't been to the Turner Prize, is actually better than the Turner Prize conversion across the water I believe, so it's fantastic.”

If that wasn’t contentious enough, there is always the content of the show, which featured film and photography reflecting in more or less direct ways on the Troubles. Klassnik insists this is not a bone of contention, but merely “the truth as seen by Willie Doherty”.

“He’s born and bred in Derry. He lives in Derry and he’s taken these photos. The ones we’ve shown were all taken in Derry and, as the title suggests [the title of the show is UNSEEN], he just walked with his camera and took them of the spaces which affected him.”

Many of the photos on display date back two decades to the troubled 1980s. Klassnik can only speculate as to why Doherty has never shown these before: “I think probably the reason he didn't think they were up to scratch, but time is of course a great healer. Also, one sees things differently 20 years later.”

Having known Doherty’s work all this time, the London curator reports people were amazed to find he had never been to Northern Ireland’s second city. “I’ve purely seen Derry through his lens and the photographs he’s shown, and that’s the kind of story I know about Derry.”

Klassnik also has the impression that locals have been “astounded and astonished” by UNSEEN. They have, he says, found it "extremely moving and sensitive to the situation in which he found himself in, and which he still finds himself in. The response has been phenomenal.”

The curator himself also sounds more than happy with the results of his five-day install, despite the artist’s nerves. “He was quite concerned with showing these pictures in the space, because it's a bit like ‘local boy made good’; he's an international art star and has never ever shown in Derry.”

Klassnik singles out a new film for special praise. Remains (2013) deals with brutal punishment injury, kneecapping. “You sit there spellbound, thinking, 'Is this still happening?' And the answer to that is yes, but it’s quite spellbinding stuff.” Doherty new show is as close to home as it is possible to get.

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Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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