In Conversation with Willie Doherty

Borders don’t only exist physically, they also exist in people’s minds and hearts as well. Sophie Whiting

We were delighted to welcome artist Willie Doherty, Assistant Curator of Talbot Rice Gallery James Clegg, Dr Nicholas Startin and Dr Sophie Whiting both of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath for an evening of topical discussion on 18 June 2019.

Conversation was inspired by Doherty’s piece Between (Where the Roads Between Derry and Donegal Cross The Border), 2019. This work is a portrayal of the 20 points between County Donegal and the City of Derry where roads cross the border separating the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Living in Donegal and working in Derry, Doherty crosses this border on a daily basis. He knows farmers who have land on either side, and many people who – like him – live across the lines.

Between (Where the Roads Between Derry and Donegal Cross The Border), 2019
Photograph courtesy of Talbot Rice Gallery

Between (Where the Roads Between Derry and Donegal Cross The Border) was one of eleven works in Borderlines, which was conceived by Tessa Giblin of Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh to coincide with the UK’s scheduled exit from the European Union. It was intended to take a broader look at the political, economic, geographic, cultural and geological fault lines that define our world at a time when their effects would be felt.

The 29 March came and went – there was frustration, anger, divisions and confusion– but nothing really seemed to happen.

The sound of that nothing happening was deafening.

Through the process of making Borderlines there have been experiences and lessons in salt seams, tribal territories, power play over resources, strange currencies of sugar, fishing wars, global anarchism, fatherlands and the emotional impact of citizenship.

It turns out, the sound of nothing happening is deafening because it stirs a huge beast. A vast, layered series contentious zones, districts and regions: some hundreds, some millions of years old.

In order to navigate this complex territory, phrases from Willie’s work Between the Future and the Past and Between Delusions and Dreams were used to anchor the conversation:

Discussing anticipation of the future of the border between Derry and Donegal, Brexit’s influence on this and the long term fate for freedom of movement in the EU.

Reflecting on the the border as a site of trauma, loss and deep psychological pain. Memory, imagination and a belief that some residual matter remains embedded in the landscape. History and legacy of the border in Ireland. Politics of memory.

Imagining a borderline in reality; nature doesn’t respect divisions. Visualising a line cutting through the puddles and fields in the images – akin to a delusional activity. Exploring the notion of expectation that politicians should have clear views despite the complex and sometimes contradictory reality.

Predicting if the 31 October will be a strange dream or nightmare. Thinking if it’s possible to ‘future proof’ artwork against particular scenarios, shifting the content and therefore meaning.

The discussion finished with a Q&A which raised pertinent issues on the idea of a more social and progressive EU, environmental politics, the freedom of movement.  Points were raised about non-humans not respecting borders: creatures, animals, nature.  Questions were asking on whose truth is the real truth.

Although uncertainty still lingers and many questions are unable to be answered conclusively, the evening was rich with opinions, thoughts and considered observations.


Watch the conversation in full below…