b. 1959, Derry, Northern Ireland.
Since the 1980s, Willie Doherty has been a pioneering figure in contemporary art film and photography. At once highly seductive and visually disorientating, Doherty’s artworks tend to begin as responses to specific terrains (most often mysterious isolated settings; places, we suspect, with a troubled past) and evolve as complex reflections on how we look at such locations – or on what stories might be told about their hidden histories.
The primary point of geographical reference for Doherty during the three decades of his remarkable career has been his native city of Derry – a city famously defined and demarcated according to the traumatic divisions of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’. From early conceptual photo-text works – focusing on the impossibility of establishing any ‘objective’ perspective on this territory of sectarian segregation and military surveillance – to dyptich and serial works in film and photography that set contradictory points of view against each other, Doherty has returned again and again to Derry as source and subject, revisiting and re-viewing familiar places from alternative positions.
Over the past decade Doherty has offered lingering, anxious views of post-conflict settings in Northern Ireland, asking us to wonder, as the narrator of his 2007 film Ghost Story proposes, “about what had happened to the pain and terror that had taken place there”. But recent works have also attended to alternative locations, or proposed less specific points of reference (an important 2005 film, shown in the main exhibition at the Venice Biennale, was tellingly entitled Non-Specific Threat). Secretion (2012), a film commissioned for Documenta 13 in Kassel, for instance, was developed as a disturbing fictional response to the industrialised landscape of central Germany, obliquely addressing the effects of a traumatic past on the landscapes of the living present. The concerns and characteristics of Secretion are consistent with those of Doherty’s career to date, but they demonstrate further ways in which the forensic gaze of his art might be newly applied.
Nominated twice for the Turner Prize (2003, 1994), Doherty’s work has been the subject of many solo museum shows including most recently CAM Gulbenkian, Lisbon (2015–16); De Pont, Tilburg, The Netherlands (2014); Neue Galerie, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel (2013); The Annex, IMMA, Dublin (2013); City Factory Gallery, Derry (2013); Statens Museum for Kunst, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (2012); Towner Gallery Eastbourne (2012); Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane (2011); The Speed Art Museum, Kentucky (2011); Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto (2009); Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2009); Lenbachhaus, München (2007); Kunstverein, Hamburg (2007); Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Mexico City (2006); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2002); Renaissance Society, Chicago (1999) and Tate Gallery, Liverpool (1999). Biennales and group exhibitions include dOCUMENTA 13 (2012), Manifesta 8 (2010), 3rd Auckland Triennial (2007), Venice Biennale (2007, 2005 and 1993), Reprocessing Reality, MOMA PS.1, New York (2006), Istanbul Biennale (2003) and the Carnegie International (1999).
In 2016, Doherty will present a major new work commissioned for Ireland’s State Centenary Programme, Ireland 2016. His film REMAINS will also be exhibited at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, 5 February – 3 April 2016.