"Who remembers all that?", the narrator asks in Chris Marker's film Sans Soleil (1983), "History throws its empty bottles out the window." The 16mm film works of Duncan Campbell (born Belfast, 1972, lives in Glasgow), and in particular his quasi-documentaries, delve into the question of how to represent history, and how to sift through, recoup or discard the manifold images that history leaves behind.
In Falls Burns Malone Fiddles (2003) Campbell looks at the era of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The film addresses the sheer number of images of the period and the impossibility of synthesising them into any coherent narrative. It is composed of footage taken by Belfast community photography groups, Republican organisations who sought to assiduously document their side of the struggle; and has as its narrator a man with a thick Scottish accent, who, struggling to make sense of the pictures before him, distances and confuses the history at hand.
Campbell's recent film, Bernadette (2007), portrays Bernadette Devlin, a Northern Irish Republican who became a street activist in the late 1960s, helped to organise the Battle of the Bogside, and who subsequently, at the age of 21, became the youngest woman elected to the House of Commons in Westminster. Bernadette builds on the sense of disorientation glimpsed in both Falls Burns and Campbell's o, Joan, no ... (2006) – a film comprising alternating bursts of light and sound. Yet Bernadette is more precise about where such disorientation is located: here, it is seen originating with the filmmaker himself. Bernadette, which is composed entirely of found footage, is presented without commentary or context. It links the state of being lost among representations of the past to one of obsessive – even sexual – enthralment. The film opens with black and white footage of Bernadette's bare skin: her toes, her feet, her arms, her eyes. This extolling of the parts of the body is a cinematic version of the blason, an adoration of 'the beloved' which has migrated from its origins in French poetry to film (Jean Luc Godard's Le Mépris also opens with a scene of this sort, dedicated to Brigitte Bardot). This portrayal of the beloved is subsequently overturned and then almost forgotten in the rest of the film, which shows a firebrand of a woman, one who, after being prohibited from speaking in Parliament after Bloody Sunday, punched the Home Secretary (and later said her only regret was that she "didn't get him by the throat").
As the footage unfolds – or rather accumulates – it becomes clear that these excerpts are not being given to the viewer in order that a story might be learnt in the manner of a historical documentary. Rather, the viewer is confronted with simply more and more representations of Bernadette, as the film's object of irrational attention. Campbell's film – in which the images are not under the control of the filmmaker, but rule over him – shows the limitations of historical memory.
For Nought to Sixty, Campbell extends Bernadette's motif of the failing testimonial in a new film. Resurrecting a short sequence recorded during the making of Bernadette, this new work presents the viewer with a series of spatial clues and anthropomorphic images in the form of rudimentary drawings, animations and photographs.