Willie Doherty

Matt's Gallery

The face of a young woman is projected onto two opposite walls of the gallery. Her eyes look straight ahead, rather than at the viewer, and her face looks familiar. The static and emblematic character of the projections, heightened by their large scale and a graininess that results from rephotographing television or video images, creates a sense of recognition irrespective of whether or not one can identify the face. In a regular rhythm words are projected onto this image, one at a time: MURDERER, RELENTLESS, MURDERER, CALCULATING, MURDERER, IMPULSIVE are flashed. On the opposite wall: VOLUNTEER, ANGRY, VOLUNTEER, PASSIONATE, VOLUNTEER, INTUITIVE are projected. At first, the viewer is trapped by in the symmetry of this piece, turning from one side to the other in search of differences between the words and the positions they represent. It is only by stepping back from this mirror relationship that one arrives at the installation’s title Same Difference. The persistent clicking of the slide projectors emphasizes the continuity and repetition of mechanisms that produces meanings as fixed and diametrically opposed.

Same Difference commemorates the second anniversary of the broadcast media ban on Sinn Fein and several other Republican and Loyalist organizations. Even if one does not recognize the image as a photograph of Donna Maguire, one of three alleged IRA members who were arrested in Holland earlier this year, the words readily suggest the emotive and stereotypical representations in the media of the political struggle in Northern Ireland. Rather than depriving the IRA of an “easy platform” on which to “propagate terrorism,”—the British government’s attempted justification for the ban—it has on the contrary worked to reinforce deeply ingrained and antagonistic attitudes.

Same Difference insists on the necessity of getting some distance on the symmetry wherein representations are endlessly perpetuated and inverted. Within the physical space of the installation this stepping back begins to occur the moment one stops turning around with the expectation of finding something qualitatively different on the other side. Without proposing a mythical space outside the parameters of representation—a space of unmediated passion, evidence or truth—a place is nonetheless suggested from which the symmetry of political rhetoric can be critically commented on. In the work of Doherty, the point of departure for such engagement lies in the staging of the interdependencies between the fixity of emotive language and a classical spatial model that tacitly governs the truth value of representations. The refusal to reproduce the conventional dichotomy between emotional identification with a cause and rational argument is perhaps the strongest aspect of the piece. It is not a question here of identifying with one position but of positioning oneself in relation to a binary rationale that constitutes political identities through a vocabulary of affective bonding. In this sense the work addresses a problematic that goes well beyond the particular context of Northern Ireland.

Desa Philippi