Seamus Harahan

Seamus Harahan's contribution to Nought to Sixty

Seamus Harahan (born Belfast, 1968, lives in Belfast) uses his video camera - a relatively accessible and moderately affordable technology - to take hand-held, seemingly amateur footage, the contents of this footage locating Harahan through found activity occurring around him. The main subject is the urban environment, its incidental detail and fugitive nature. The light is often unfiltered and the image over-exposed, implying a mode of filmmaking that prioritises recording before thought, the absent-minded gaze.

Music is a vital element in all of Harahan's works, with songs used as soundtracks or informing the composition, title or duration of individual pieces. The artist takes songs from an eclectic range of sources, including reggae and hip hop as well as traditional English and Irish music. The recording style can be equally telling, from scratchy track-intros (Picking Up Change in the King Fu Theatre, 2004) to a John Peel introduction to a live session track (Free as a Bird, 2006). These seemingly disparate musical sources are laid over Harahan's urban footage, often coming with references to war and conflict, including lyrics intending to motivate or comfort soldiers and freedom fighters. The marriage of such lyrics to footage of Belfast, but particularly to images that focus on the minutiae of found activity, strike a balance between a sense of political conflict and an intuitive response to individual human concerns.

In Clonemen (2004), a track by an American rap group accompanies footage of Northern Ireland's hinterlands, over which the British flag constantly reappears, a journey that detours along the M1 to Belfast. Avoiding dogmatic rhetorical devices, the artist manages to suggest not the eye of surveillance, but instead the viewpoint of a fascinated bystander - one whose environment is in a constant state of unravelling (a position echoed in the artist's choice of music). Harahan's work can be interpreted as an open and sophisticated exploration of the shortcomings of social and political representation in general, rather than a lament or protest concerning Northern Ireland in particular.

At the ICA Seamus Harahan is presenting a two-screen video installation entitled Valley of Jehosephat / Version - In Your Mind (2007). In this work the same footage is projected alternately on two adjoining walls, the two loops accompanied by different songs. One is a roots reggae track by Max Romeo from the late seventies - referring to a biblical valley of judgment. The other is Bryan Ferry's In Your Mind (1977), which suggests a philosophical quest for personal resolution. Both songs accompany the same footage of the Bloody Sunday Commemoration in Derry, and Harahan's camera captures marchers, uniformed bandsmen, bystanders, commemorative banners, political murals and graffiti - as well as other cameras recording the event. The alternating soundtracks destabilise our reading of the work, which becomes almost meditative in quality.

Isobel Harbison