Blinded by the very force it imagined it could handleBank Gallery
20th Apr 2023 to 28th Jul 2023
About The Exhibition
Belfast Exposed is delighted to present Blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle, a new film from Donovan Wylie and Peter Mann, which contains never before seen footage from the demolition of the Maze Prison in 2007.
Blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle builds on work done by Wylie as part of his landmark exhibition The Maze (2004) - which was first shown at Belfast Exposed - that saw Wylie given access to the Maze/Long Kesh Prison site as in stood empty, but kept ready for future use, in Northern Ireland's post-Good Friday Agreement political landscape. By this time, the Maze had become a location synonymous with the Trouble, due to its role in holding 'special category' prisons with links to paramilitary organisations and as the site of the infamous Hunger Strikes of the early 1980s. It was arguably one of the most famous prisons in the world. Despite having been emptied in the years following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the site was maintained and kept in readiness for several years, prepared in case conflict returned. It cast a long shadow over the early years of post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland, as the first steps towards devolved, power-sharing government were being made.
It was in this context that Wylie was given free, unsupervised access to the Maze in order to document the site. His images captured both the physical structure of the prison, as well as the psychological impact of the Maze's architecture. The Maze brought Wylie widespread critical acclaim and was a powerful documentation of living history in Northern Ireland.
With our long history of politically engaged work - dating back to our foundation at the height of the Troubles - Belfast Exposed prides itself on supporting work that interrogates complex issues of conflict and history. Donovan Wylie's brilliant new work, created with filmmaker Peter Mann, does exactly this. Using film shot during the demolition of the Maze, a place deeply associated with the Troubles and that appeared to have been made obsolete by the Good Friday Agreement, Blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle gives a new clarity and perspective on both the Agreement and the world it created.
Deirdre Robb, Belfast Exposed
In 2007, Donovan Wylie and filmmaker Peter Mann recorded the demolition of an internal perimeter wall of the Maze/Long Kesh Prison, as part of Wylie's work to document the demolition of the site following the prison's final closure. It is this, previously unseen, work that forms the basis of Blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle.
In this new work, Wylie continues to chronicle the architecture of conflict. His work is rooted in the idea of art as an antidote to the nihilism that conflict can induce, and was influenced by his experiences as a child growing up during the Troubles (Wylie was born in Belfast in 1971). In Blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle, the scenes of the demolition are directed so that at different moments, the viewer feels oppressed by the wall of the Maze, and then paradoxically protected by it. The almost overwhelming sound as the wall is destroyed evokes Wylie’s childhood memories of sleep broken by explosions in the city, and the destruction of the wall creates a space into which a sense of peace emerges. The film features excerpts of Simone Weil's ‘The Iliad or the Poem of Force’, read by Paula McFetridge.
Belfast Exposed will also be using Blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle as an opportunity to publicly open the Bank Gallery, a new complex of exhibitions and event spaces and artist studios on Belfast's High Street. This will be the first public event held in the Bank Gallery.
Sometimes there is a moment where you feel safe enough to look back, you have travelled far enough to gain some perspective, and confident enough not to go back to broken sleep but awake, clear and conscious.
In 2006 I was the only person given full access to photograph and film the demolition of the Maze/Long Kesh prison. A place I had come to know incredibly well since I started photographing it in 2001 and a place that loomed large in my childhood. It felt essential to do it, but in the months and years that followed finding the right way to show it became harder and harder.
Showing this work for the first time, 15 years after it was photographed, feels something like this new clarity….and so within our full grasp.
The installation opens on Thursday 20th April 2023 and runs until Friday 28th July.
Blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle
By Donovan Wylie and Peter Mann
With the voice of Paula McFetridge reading excerpts of ‘The Iliad or the Poem of Force’ by Simone Weil.
Produced by Deirdre Robb for Belfast Exposed
Post Production producer. Declan Keeney
Sound designer. Michael McKnight
Photography and editing. Donovan Wylie and Peter Mann
The ArtistsDonovan Wylie Peter Mann
Donovan Wylie is a photographer and Professor at Ulster University, whose work chronicles what he calls "the concept of vision as power in the architecture of contemporary conflict" – prison, army watchtowers and outposts, and listening stations – "merging documentary and art photography". He first came to widespread critical acclaim with his work documenting the Maze Prison - the main site for internment during the Troubles - and further developed his critical reputation with the Tower Series, documenting the architecture of conflict in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and the Canadian Arctic. In addition to photography, Wylie often works in film. He received a BAFTA in 2002 for The Train.
Peter Mann is an artist working with film and photography. His varied practice is centred around questioning the nature of image making and storytelling. His film projects have been shown in galleries and international film festivals including IFFR, Visions du Reel, Abandon Normal Devices, MIFF, BritDoc, Viennale. His photographic work is held internationally including Tate collection of artist books and The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale. Exhibitions and events include Peckham 24, The Brighton Photo Biennale, ‘A Survey of Documentary Styles in Early 21st Century Photobooks,’ ’Photography and the photobook now’ (Tate Modern), and Archipelago projects; Burning With Pleasure. Peter also manages the estate of his father, the painter Sargy Mann. In this role he has published several books and curated and produced exhibitions.
Belfast Exposed is supported by the Arts Council For Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council.