Following his first major exhibition in Dublin at IMMA in 2014, Irish-born artist Duncan Campbell presents, The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy (2016), his first new work since winning the Turner Prize in 2014 and his first film based in the Republic of Ireland. Originating from research undertaken in the IFI Irish Film Archive, Campbell’s new film commission takes as a starting point a 1960’s UCLA anthropological film study of rural Kerry to investigate and reframe contemporary Ireland.
The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy is underpinned by extensive research, in this instance Paul Hockings and Mark McCarty’s 1968 documentary film The Village, and three influential anthropological studies: Inis Beag by John C. Messenger; Inishkillane: Change and Decline in the West of Ireland by Hugh Brody; and in particular Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics by Nancy Scheper-Hughes.
The film uses a combination of archive material and self-shot footage and is set against a visit by two American anthropologists to the village of Dun Chaoin thus mirroring The Village. Campbell directly integrates footage from Hockings and McCarty’s film with newly scripted material also filmed in and around Dún Chaoin, which echoes key scenes from the documentary that captured the day-to-day routine of the village. In revisiting these scenes Campbell looks at some of the assumptions, ethics and misconceptions that frame the relationship between the filmmakers and the villagers.
As with many of Campbell’s works the film questions the validity of documentary form as historical representation, blurring fact, and fiction, recording and interpretation. His extensive research into a specific time and context uncovers the unknown and unexpected in a representation of Ireland that at first seems familiar. On one level The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy represents the uses and misuses of the past as the implications of the societal shifts and misrepresentations it explores still resonate and inform contemporary Ireland today.
Commenting on the work Duncan Campbell said “the film is set at the interface of the activist perspective of the two American anthropologists and their focus on individual minds to be saved; and the communal but conservatively Catholic perspective of the people they are studying. The main character in the film is a speechless 10 year-old boy, Tomás, who is seen in the light of the tension between these two perspectives.’ At the heart of the film is the question of Tomás’ welfare and, if he is in need of salvation – whether this lies in tradition or modernity.”
The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy is commissioned by IMMA with co-commissioners Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and Western Front, Vancouver. This commission is one of three major new works being commissioned by IMMA that reflects on the legacy of the commemoration of the Irish State and is part of the official Ireland 2016 programme. Funded in part by the Irish Film Board this marks the first time that IMMA and Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board have collaborated on a film work.
This commission is also presented as part of an exciting on-going initiative, New Art at IMMA, proudly supported by Matheson, which allows IMMA to continue to support artists’ vital work in a strand of programming that recognises and nurtures new and emerging talents, new thinking and new forms of exhibition-making.
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