Broomberg & Chanarin, Colin Gee, Factotum, Tonic Design - 15 March to 27 April 2012
Prima Materia features recently commissioned work by Colin Gee, Broomberg & Chanarin and Factotum, made in response to the Belfast Exposed community photography archive. The exhibition also features a fourth wall-based, text piece by designer, Keith Connolly. The text work is made up of edited extracts from a discussion about the new commissions between curator, Charlotte Cotton, artist, Anthony Luvera and artist and writer, Daniel Jewesbury.
The Belfast Exposed community photography archive contains over half a million images produced by many different people; community groups, amateur and professional photographers, between 1983 and the present day. The archive has undergone a number of phases of development, including a digitisation programme, since 2001. Between 2009 and 2011, Brown&Bri worked as Archive Managers and were responsible for the development of a programme of public and community engagement, alongside the commissioning of a series of major new works by Colin Gee, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin and Factotum.
Colin Gee is an American choreographer and filmmaker. In his work, I Felt I'd Been Here Before (2010), Gee examines the archive from the perspective of an outsider. He attempts to look beyond familiar images of conflict towards subtle signs of subjective experience. He identified locations from the original images and 'reframed' these in a series of short films. Isolating a character in each still image, he draws our attentions towards the space between memory and image.
In People In Trouble Laughing Pushed To The Ground (2011), Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin chose to examine the Belfast Exposed archive as a physical document, working with the contact sheets and excavating layers of years of interventions by photographers, community groups, researchers and archivists. Through this exercise in discovery and revelation, we learn as much about the people charged with looking after this resource as the people portrayed in it.
The Belfast-based film and publishing collective, Factotum come to the archive with local knowledge and an understanding of the sensitivities and internal politics associated with the collection and its development. Factotums new film Monsters of Ulster (2012) satirises the re-imaging and repackaging of post-conflict Northern Ireland, irreverently commenting on their own involvement with the archive.
As part of the evaluation of their work with the archive at Belfast Exposed, Brown&Bri have orchestrated a conversation responding to these new works and their position in relation to the organisation, the city and similar collections elsewhere. Brown&Bri have invited a graphic designer to interpret their edit of this conversation for the fourth and final piece in the exhibition. The result is less an explanatory text and more a representation of the layers of negotiation and debate that have defined the project.
Prima Materia speaks about an organisation and the people responsible for it, about a turbulent history and the people who lived through it. It presents a series of recent explorations into a past well documented in the media, reflecting on itself and the sometimes controversial process surrounding its development. Negotiations, delicate subjects, truths and lies...
Prima Materia is supported by Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Heritage Lottery, Belfast City Council and Department of Social Development.
We would like to thank the original photographers - Sean McKernan, Mervyn Smyth, Gerry Casey and all other contributing photographers to the archive. Copyright of the original archive material remains with these photographers and with Belfast Exposed.