Past Exhibition

Bonfires

John Duncan - 13 June to 18 July 2008

Glencairn Way, Belfast

Glencairn Way, Belfast

Milner Street, Belfast

Milner Street, Belfast

Boucher Road, Belfast

Boucher Road, Belfast

Keswick Street, Belfast

Keswick Street, Belfast

Exhibition opening: Friday 13 June, 7 - 9pm

Bonfires, produced over three years, documents a long-standing tradition of bonfire building by Protestant communities in Belfast. The bonfires are built in preparation for the annual 11th July celebrations, which commemorate the defeat of James Stuart at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The imposing bonfire structures are a powerful provocation with which Protestant identity is asserted and a sense of solidarity and continuity is re-affirmed.

Duncan’s photographs frame and measure the structures against their various social settings, revealing both a sense of Belfast’s changing urban landscape and the deep divisions that, despite political progress, still affect Northern Ireland long after the ceasefires. The bonfires have recently been challenged from a number of quarters: from within the Protestant community for damage caused to property and surrounding areas; from developers who covet the waste land they are built on; and from environmentalists who express concerns about the pollution they cause. Seen against this backdrop of competing agendas, the bonfires come to express a form of resistance, and their building a kind of raw ingenuity.

Duncan’s work dwells on the fact that each bonfire has a singular structure, an identity. They are sculptural and architectural oddities with many resonances through history and art, from high-rise flats to military watchtowers and gun emplacements, from the Empire State Building to the Tower of Babel. Duncan’s photographs are alive to these broader themes and their various photographic connections, for example, with Bernd and Hilla Becher’s meticulous documenting of industrial architecture. But the typological aspects of the work are just one of its many rich undercurrents, never diminishing the primary impact of the photographs or the importance of the social and political reality that they confront head on.

ARTIST’S BIOGRAPHY
John Duncan was born and lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He studied Documentary Photography at Newport, Wales and Fine Art Photography at Glasgow School of Art. Since 1994 he has co-edited Source photographic magazine. His work has been shown in various solo and group exhibitions including, Imago, Centre of Photography Salamanca 1997, Stills Gallery Edinburgh 1998, On the Bright Side of Life, Neue Gesellschaft fur bildende Kunst Berlin 1998, Gallery of Photography Dublin 2002, Belfast Exposed 2003, Photography Towards a Sculptural Impulse, Dazibao Montréal 2006, Gimpel Fils London 2006, East, Norwich Gallery 2006, Loaded Landscapes, Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago 2007.

PUBLICATION
Bonfires
Co-published by Steidl, Belfast Exposed Photography and Photoworks
Essays by Colin Graham and Mary Warner Marien
Book design by LOUP
72 pages with 24 colour plates
280mm x 290mm
Hardcover
Price £20/ €25/ $40

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The Bonfires exhibition and publication has been supported by Belfast Exposed Photography, Photoworks and Wolverhampton Art Gallery. We would like to thank the Arts Council Northern Ireland, Awards For All, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Belfast City Council and Arts Council England – South East.

CONTACT DETAILS
Karen Downey, Belfast Exposed Photography, 23 Donegall Street, Belfast, BT1 2FF, Northern Ireland http://www.belfastexposed.org | | +44 028 90230965

Gordon MacDonald, Photoworks, The Depot, 100 North Road, Brighton, BN1 1YE, England http://www.photoworksuk.org | | +44 01273 607500

Captions:
Glencairn Way, Belfast (2004) from Bonfires by John Duncan
Courtesy of Belfast Exposed Photography

Milner Street, Belfast (2004) from Bonfires by John Duncan
Courtesy of Belfast Exposed Photogaphy

Boucher Road, Belfast (2004) from Bonfires by John Duncan
Courtesy of Belfast Exposed Photography

Keswick Street, Belfast (2004) from Bonfires by John Duncan
Courtesy of Belfast Exposed Photography