by Sara Muthi
It is needless to say that present day Belfast is a very complex, sensitive context tightly wound up with the well-known aftermath we know to be the Troubles. Stepping in from the outside onto Northern Ireland’s traumatically unresolved terrain it is difficult to feel you should have anything to comment, as if doing so would be wholly out of place and ignorant of the fragility of the context. Oona Doherty’s Death of a Hunter at the Golden Thread Gallery translates the contemporary conditions of working class lives in Belfast to an audience outside of the context from which her movement is spawned.
London born, Belfast-bred choreographer Oona Doherty works within the context of such politically and historically charged spaces. She however does not look back to Belfast’s Troubles, nor does she deal with such political matters explicitly. With that said, indirectness is not indifference, in fact quite the opposite. As many Northern Irish artists must, she deals with unimaginably sensitive spaces carefully and considerately. Doherty however aware of the socio-political context she must be pays forensic attention to the seemingly familiar patterns present in the working class culture of today.
Death of a Hunter is Doherty’s visual arts debut. Trained as a dancer and now a practicing choreographer, her work is not what is expected to be found in a visual arts space. Her subject matter and execution in collaboration with video makers and sound artists give the work the oomph to seamlessly slide into a gallery context. One space in the gallery showcases a multi-part video work while the other hosts an installation composed of the heart-breaking presence of a crashed car.
The multi-part video installation is difficult and at times uncomfortable to watch. Each short film deals eloquently with a differing aspect of the physico‐sociological state as witnessed by her within Belfast’s urban culture. The first episode of Doherty’s video installation is titled Lazarus & The Bird of Paradise. Here is where I believe the cream of the crop of Doherty’s practise lies. Her lone figure lies motionless against the indistinguishable clamber of familiar loutish behaviour that acts as the score for this work. Soon she gently arises like a man possessed, being swiftly glided to her feet in relation to the weight of her own body. Her movements following this is the result of forensic observation of “smicks”, a derogatory term used to describe young lower-class persons of brash behaviour. It is the energy of this culture, the subtleties of an unsteady stance, a shrug of the shoulders and a rub of the nose which by itself may not be doing much but is threading a line between anxiety, fear and unrest that Doherty “tries on”, as someone would try on an outfit. She splits and splices these urban gestures with her unique style of contemporary dance that I can only describe as guttural. Unlike our general perception of contemporary dance in which the face stays motionless, Doherty utilises facial expressions to further try on these urban attitudes wholly to become completely engrossed in the character she takes from.
Her movement is visceral and sets the scene for the following episode, Sugar Army, which abstractly regurgitates recognisable gestures of young defiant girls, posturing to the camera. Once again this work is generally not consumed by those considered to be the subject matter. Rather what Doherty does is she delicately and intentionally presents to us these characters in order to suggest an understanding of the deep psychological past that may have created such a culture. The work through her movements and direction are humanly honest and reveal a painful society which far too often lacks empathy.
Oona Doherty’s Death of a Hunter runs from the 20th of October to the 3rd of November 2018 at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast.