I viewed the Roderick Buchanan exhibition at the Ormeau Baths Gallery. I was intrigued by the references to sectarianism. Much of what was displayed was drawn on his “Histrionics” work, commissioned by the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow Museums, in 2007.
Ormeau Baths doesn’t allow any photography, so you’ll have to make do with a verbal description. The first item you see is a large, c. 6×20-foot wall partition, covered in a dark blue and red tartan cloth, with half a dozen drum skins (in chrome frames) affixed. Original (for me) display of the symbolism of cultural drum bands, prevalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Next is the c. 8×8-foot photographic image of Buchanan and his partner, wearing complementary t-shirts so that “Mixed Marriage” reads across when they stand side-by-side. Again, clever, and I liked it. Their images are accompanied by likewise large, circular style genealogies of each of them, with colour coded desriptions of locale and relevant occupations of their ancestors. The family historian in me particularly appreciated this.
In the rear room is Buchanan’s homage to Thomas Muir, who is described as once a constitutional monarchist, later a revolutionary republican. Indeed, in a series of photographed book covers and clipboards entitled “Number Crunching”, Buchanan chronicles Muir’s life, with particular relation of events in France. This is further displayed by text on large blue, white, and red panels (representing the flag of the French republic, of course). A creative and productive use of Buchanan’s (healthy) obsession with this topic.
Upstairs along the long four walls are A2 (?) sized photographs of various football stars, each showing their new jersey for the team they’ve just signed a contract with. Buchanan’s point is to illusrate the internationalism of football. I just found the series of prints monotonous. Instead, how about various collages? For example, like his French flag downstairs, you could have 2 sets of panels — one green, white, and orange; and another red, white, and blue; or some combination of all colours in a single set of panels — but intersperse them completely randomly, to purposefully make a nonsense of the symbolic colours.
A darkened room had an infinite looping of two large, projector-lit screens, with alternate short videos (about 5 minutes each) of separate marching bands, both based in Glasgow. The Black Skull Band is typical — celebrating the liberties associated with various Protestant organisations — but making the point that they live up to the spirit of how such bands came about: to provide an alternative to youth who may otherwise get involved with drink, drugs, and delinquency.
What I found more intriguing was the mirroring (well, not actually, as there is an 8-foot black partition between the two screens) presentation of the Parkhead Republican Flute Band, which was named after Billy Reid, who was from the New Lodge, Belfast, in the IRA, and killed by the British Army. The band has taken part in marches and demonstrations all over Ireland, Britain, and several St Patrick’s Day parades in New York City.
Another signature piece of Buchanan’s exhibition is an armalite affixed to the wall, with white neon lit script “Beyond use” overhead. But this isn’t easy to spot at the Ormeau Baths Gallery. Hint: look up above the exit, before reception, on your way out.
I’m glad I took the time to view Buchanan’s work. I wish I had known about it when it was launched, as there were several local lectures. I’ve duly signed up to the mailing list, which I had to ask to do. (I also had to ask whether there was any exhibition publication for sale.) Indeed, the Ormeau Baths seem careless about their visitors. To be fair, I find this typical of most local galleries, particularly in Northern Ireland — so long as they get their public subsidy, who cares about increasing audiences and encouraging engagement? But I’ll do my part to try to get the word out.