Group Exhibition at Tate Britain, London of Willie Doherty's Ghost Story, 2007 video installation
Ghost Story 2007 is a fifteen-minute single channel colour video projection with a voiceover that centres on a journey around Derry in Northern Ireland. The main location depicted in the video is a long empty pathway – flanked by woods on either side and a barbed-wire fence on the right – down which the camera slowly travels. At other times the camera moves through a derelict area with lock-up garages, a dark urban underpass and a patch of open wasteland on which a silver car is parked with a man sitting inside it. Interspersed with the footage of these landscapes, which are mostly seen in a murky blue-grey twilight with some brief night-time sequences, are occasional close-ups of eyes (both male and female) that gaze past the camera. Written by the creator of Ghost Story, the Northern Irish artist Willie Doherty, and delivered by the actor Stephen Rea in a dispassionate manner filled with long pauses, the voiceover details personal memories, often concerning murder and violence, that seem to be connected with the landscapes depicted in the video (text reproduced in Fruitmarket Gallery 2009, unpaginated). For instance, the narrator suggests that the trees contain ‘shadow-like figures’ whose terrified faces remind him of a crowd of people he once saw fleeing for safety.
As the title Ghost Story implies, Doherty’s video explores the idea of the past haunting the present. Both the movements of the camera, which may reflect the narrator’s perspective but which are so steady that they do not appear attached to a human body, and the words of the voiceover, which refer to ‘restless creatures whose intentions are often beyond our comprehension’ and figures who ‘inhabit a world somewhere between here and the next’, create a strong sense that spectral forces are at work in the video. The evocation of ghosts in the work can be related to the history of Northern Ireland, especially the violence associated with the Troubles, a period of political conflict that began in the late 1960s and is widely considered to have concluded in the late 1990s. Ghost Story suggests that the landscapes in the video may have once functioned as a stage for traumatic acts, even if little physical evidence of suffering is visible.
Over seventy works by more than fifty artists will be included, including familiar names such as J.M.W. Turner and Tracey Emin as well as lesser-known figures of British art history.