Angela Halliday, Topographies: Smithfield, Belfast, 2013


This archival image from 2011 presents the new Smithfield Market  replacing the one the perished in the fire during the so called Troubles.

Smithfield-Market-fire-1974050701SM1 (1)

The disappeared one is still cherished in  a charming web of stories, histories and tales, with a support of some old  photographs.

smithfield-market-belfast-We buy anything

Dr Halliday has not chosen any of this. Instead, she makes a visual topography of the site that housed the known narrative, without referring to it.  Consequently, the visual in the seven minutes video, is the narrative. It is also a portrait of a site.

Modern art situated itself between two  “how”questions: how is art made  and how  to access/ attract viewing.  Halliday chose a lens based technique that is dependent on particular equipment, electric energy and time.  Time, rhythm, speed, movement, colour, light and sound become the vehicles for the experience, the transmitters of what the lens saw, and the communicators of what the artist deemed necessary and sufficient.

The video is capable to attract many at the same time (if projected in a big space), or – as in my case- offer a private viewing for one. I note that size matters. The projection became more convincingly interesting on a larger scale. Perhaps, because I felt stronger the immersive power of each image. The technique precludes contemplative lingering with an image, so richly rewarding with a still photograph or a painting.

The modern technology allows multiples, the artist can produce a number of copies and make them available/ accessible to others. In this way, lens based media repeat the ethos of printing techniques of producing multiples, an idea still popular with many artists. Joseph Beuys made the multiples from wood,  the Temple Bar artists produced brochures, booklets, books.  On theoretical level, video copies face the issue  Walter Benjamin pinned onto an aura of authorship. It still persists in art market, and among general public, but it is less important to the visual artists, after they shifted the aura of authorship to early stages of thought, to early stages of intention.

Video art is dependent on  matching equipment, that races to make the previous one obsolete.  It also depends on reliable  and affordable energy  supply. This rules out certain cultures, certain areas on this Earth, certain people. In turn, it makes video culture specific, in the way  the art by Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt and Dan Shipsides is site specific art.  Halliday chose to make a site specific video, concerning all that is in front of her lens.

Generously, she emailed me eighteen  images in the order they appear in the video, in an attempt to link my writing to the moving image.

Surprisingly, the first few images are of a river and trees, and the empty road.

Topographies still 1

Topographies still 2

Topographies still 3

Evocative of calm and natural beauty successfully minimize  a note of neglect, decay, and abandonment. The two feelings, one of utter joy of what I see, and the other of it all being somewhere else, not here, freely and quite calmly oscillate, forging a slightly intoxication contemplation.

Topographies still 4

At the dusk above the roofs of the terrace houses near the Smithfield Market, the seagulls argue  where to settle.  They do not settle easily, the noise of their screaching calls re-appears above my head when watching the video.  rarely they are seen by the lens, which turns to examine rooftops and houses.

Topographies still 5

As if wishing to catch the hubris of  first manmade lights.

Topographies still 6 Topographies still 7 Topographies still 8

Wires are the roads the energy  travels from a source to the use, looking like clumsily knotted threads. The pylons keep their function secret for those who know already. The blue tinge on the slopes echoes the parting of the daylight.

Yet, before the night comes, there is more to see. The sculpture made by houses that look like toys.

Topographies still 9

The urban emptiness, distances between streets, the anonymity, which countryside does not allow.

Topographies still 10

Topographies still 11 Topographies still 12 Topographies still 13

The emptiness of the car park  – only at that evening hour, when the cars escaped the city as a provider of work.  Halliday’s sense of rhythm and sense for geometry allows for both nostalgic and humorous associations. Still, she keeps her eye on the main goal, the portrait of the site. What is it made of, how does it look from different stops of a pedestrian carrying a camera.  The collaboration of full and empty, shadow of the night and the last warm rays, successfully translates the feel, the mood, of the site, which inherited its space from red brick pretty houses, destroyed after  a brief period of housing artists studios.

Inevitably, the motives of dividing lines, fences, walls, that the two communities so diligently developed  over some thirty years, cannot be ignored. Wisely, the artist robs them of any possible symbolic meaning, allowing for their specific traits as well as the universal layer of meaning.

Topographies still 14 Topographies still 15 Topographies still 16

After all, the generation who made the graffitti on the wall may have switched their allegiances.

The same car park as above, however, its mood and character changed in harmony with the direction and intensity of light- It is the same evening, the light evenly ascribes the buildings in their idiosyncratic angles and curves. :The empty carpark assumes a directing power, obeys an order, issues an order. Like the windows on the building on its right.

Topographies still 17

What time it is? What time is left?  That Art Deco clock is never working. It seems to be working for this sequence.  Standing above the roofs, it commands a view, but not the power of the night settling over them.

Topographies still 18

Topographies still 19

All the urban elements reappear in the last sequence, a tree, a light, seagulls and cityscape.

The video is a successful portrait of being there at the certain time of a day, a month and a year.  The weather was kind, keeping the camera dry.  I see it also as a joyful  study in tonality of natural light.

Dr Halliday made this video at the Tenth anniversary of the Digital Arts Studios. Since 2011, she has been the manager of DAS  and helped to produce the commemorative booklet. She writes: “…we must not forget …(that)without the hard work of the Queen Street Studios artists and board members, DAS would not have come into being.” Both Dr Halliday and the Chair of DAS board Colin Graham, write about the supporting function of DAS both for artists and public. Indeed it is more than a support. Without the equipment made available, and the seminars, workshops, exhibitions, this region would not have the stars like Dr Aisling O’Beirn, Fiona Larkin,  Dr Allan Hughes, Phil Hession, Michael Hanna and Julie McGowen, to name just those who exhibited more recently.  Among the residencies, there is a number of artists now living abroad, who made their important steps towards working as professionals, in Belfast.  Both  Colin Graham and Angela Halliday  acknowledge the funding from the Arts Council as conditio sine qua non.  Indeed, ACNI, should hail DAS as their internationally valued success.

This is not rhetoric on my part. I remember the beginnings, then the better , but still inadequate equipment at the QSS – vividly. I see in my memory, frustrated Dr   O’Beirn, patiently and angrily at the same time, teaching the software to animate her drawing. The computer  stubbornly  refused to obey…and it became soon obsolete.

That is a pathway of modern technology.  Without it, this kind of art cannot be.

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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