Prima Materia

Belfast Exposed, Belfast, March – April 2012

This was a group exhibition of four new works which we commissioned and developed in response to the photographic collection at Belfast Exposed.

New work included two photographic series’, sound installation and publication by Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, five short films and photographic installation by Colin Gee and a feature film by Factotum.

A fourth piece by graphic designer Keith Connolly, (Tonic Design) was based on extracts of a discussion with the curators and people obliquely associated with the project. Daniel Jewesbury, Anthony Luvera and Charlotte Cotton were brought together for a dinner and a discussion on the commissioned work. Chaired, served and hosted by us, we made a commitment to honesty and genuine critique. Sitting in on the discussion was Keith Connolly, whose graphic representation of the conversation was based on the evening. The funding for this piece came from the evaluation budget for the project. A transcription of the recorded dinner was submitted to funders as the external evaluation.

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…

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, archivists and sometimes the subjects themselves. 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. Factotum’s 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.

The fourth piece was a series of graphic prints, the visualisation of an orchestrated conversation responding to these new works and their position in relation to the organisation, the city and similar collections elsewhere. The result is less an explanatory text and more a representation of the layers of negotiation and debate that have defined the project.