Magazine article Artforum International

Duncan Campbell: Irish Museum of Modern Art

Magazine article Artforum International

Duncan Campbell: Irish Museum of Modern Art

Article excerpt

Duncan Campbell

IRISH MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

Duncan Campbell's breakthrough film, the remarkable mini-documentary Bernadette, 2008, is an inventively intimate portrait of a public figure. Focusing on the life of left-wing activist and politician Bernadette Devlin--a magnetic, motivating presence in the Northern Irish civil rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s--Campbell constructed an unorthodox, and perversely intrusive, style of filmic biography. Principally assembled from fragments of news footage, Bernadette shows its young protagonist (born in 1947) rallying crowds and railing against authority with astonishing, beyond-her-years composure and off-the-cuff oratorical flair. But bookending this pacey, cutup compilation of interviews and public speeches are two strange, newly produced sequences that point, by contrast, to moments of fraught privacy. In these "faked" passages, Campbell pushes the apparent limits of documentary propriety. First, in several borderline-creepy shots, the camera is allowed to linger, with fetishistic indulgence, on the hands, hair, and feet of a Bernadette stand-in. Then, in the film's more abstract concluding section, a ruminative first-person voice-over aimed to represent the private doubts and memories of a woman who was once a prominent public personality.

Tensions between documentary detachment and immersive access--and between on-the-record declaration and undisclosed, interior reflection--are felt again in Campbell's most recent film, The Welfare of Tomas O Hallissy, 2016, commissioned by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, with the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands, and Western Front, Vancouver, as part of an exhibition series addressing legacies of Ireland's postcolonial independence. Campbell's contribution to this series comes as a belated coda to his 2014 survey show at IMMA--which included Bernadette and the Turner Prize-winning It for Others, 2013--and this compact, one-work exhibition employed the same black-box installation style as the earlier presentation. Unlike Bernadette, the title character of Campbell's new film is an entirely nonspeaking presence: a mute, enigmatic figure unaccustomed to the probing gaze of the camera. Tomas is a young boy from a remote coastal village in 1960s Ireland, a member of a deeply traditional County Kerry community struggling to sustain itself in the modern era.

Campbell invites us to view this threatened world from the perspective of two American researchers: external observers eager to document the disappearing forms of daily life in this locality but also concerned about the extent of their potential influence--positive or negative--on the society they are filming. …

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