Belfast-based Seamus Harahan presents two new works, Cold Open and Auftakt in this, his third exhibition at Gimpel Fils. Harahan's films are characterised by the their telephoto shots, lengthy takes and a soundtrack which sometimes melds with his images, but just as often acts in counterpoint. Harahan sets up elements of a narrative, only to confound them by switching to a set of images which, at first sight, appear unrelated. His subjects are unaware of being filmed, are invariably in public places and most often in an urban setting. Nevertheless, their behaviour is strikingly similar to playacting, or simply to a form of ritual public display. Here then is a new set of oppositions, a documentary approach which negates the structure of documentary.
Cold Open is six sequences from a larger series, filmed over a year. Notable are the points of view characteristic of Harahan's style: the camera points either upwards or looks down. When his lens is pointing up, it is usually at a feature of the sky or nature, with a sense of freedom from the anxiety which accompanies his CCTV-like scrutiny of youngsters in slightly menacing gatherings. The opening sequence of this short film has a couple discuss the husband's drinking habits and public image, with a morning scene of rain-soaked branches. The mood is easy-going. Later, a group of young teen boys are observed play-acting violence towards each other, or perhaps not play-acting. The music varies between traditional gaelic and rock. In the final sequence, a group of youngsters is gathered around a pram. The novelty here is the presence of teenage women, perhaps including a young mother. The film ends with Harahan widening the view to place this group of youngsters in their surroundings, which look alarmingly like the middle of a busy road. Once again Harahan, though not unsympathetic to his anonymous subjects, places them in the viewer's mind as possible outcasts within their society and definitely alienated from the viewer's own.
Auftakt is filmed in Finland. A single soundtrack is in use. Arvo Pärt, an Estonian composer, is in a workshop discussion about the composition of Für Alina. Single, then two-note chords are played on a cheap electric piano, while Pärt explains his motivations and thoughts on the communication of notions and emotions. If the conversation, in Estonian, seems a novelty, the images are pure Seamus Harahan. Two or more men are observed, through a tangle of branches, in what appears to be aggressive behaviour, but turns out to be an unofficial game of football. Harahan's camera alternates this with the vapour trail of a plane high in the sky and, from time to time, a seagull standing atop a tiled roof, the seagull standing as intermediary between sky and earth. If for Federico Fellini, the sea is the recurring feature which is a promise of catharsis from the malaise of urban society, for Harahan it is the distant sky.
Seamus Harahan was born in 1968 and received his fine art degrees from the University of Ulster. His solo exhibitions include Transmission Gallery, Glasgow; Project Arts, Dublin; Spencer Brownstone Gallery, New York (Armory Show); MuKHA, Antwerp; ICA, London; Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Third Space Gallery, Belfast. In 2005, Harahan represented North Ireland at the Venice Biennale and in 2009 he received the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists.