Donovan Wylie - 27 March to 1 May 2009
26 March, 7-9 pm
Following his widely acclaimed 2004 photo essay The Maze, Magnum photographer Donovan Wylie was the only photographer granted official and unlimited access to the Maze prison site during its demolition. Executed over 2 years and counting, with the demolition dates being continually changed, Wylie’s new work focuses on the empty landscape that surfaces in the aftermath of the demolition process, showing how this once-enclosed space is eventually reintegrated with the outside world.
The exhibition combines photographs and film footage of the prison complex, including helicopter shots, which fully appreciate the architectural destruction of the massive compound whilst at the same time reflecting on the destruction of the prison system.
The Maze prison was opened in 1976 at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland. It held both republican and loyalist prisoners in its eight identical H-blocks. Through its history of protests, hunger strikes and escapes, the Maze became synonymous with the Northern Ireland conflict. After the Belfast peace agreement in 1998, inmates were gradually released, but the Maze remained open.
Between 2002 and 2003 Donovan Wylie spent almost a hundred days photographing inside the prison. Gradually he came to understand the psychology of the architecture and its ability to disorient and diminish. Following a sustained period of peace, and to symbolize the end of the conflict, demolition of the prison began in 2007. Wylie returned to the site to systematically record its demise. The methodical destruction that he witnessed suggests that the work is moving to a conclusion, but as the site is returned to the landscape, if offers no conclusions, no answers.
The exhibition Maze 2007/8 coincides with the launch of Maze (Steidl), a publication in three volumes which documents the cycle of construction and destruction of the prison as its function is defeated by the progression of history, and Scrapbook (Steidl/Archive Modern Conflict), an album made in collaboration with Timothy Prus recreating the authors’ personal view of the turmoil in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.
Born in Belfast in 1971, Donovan Wylie discovered photography at an early age. He left school at sixteen, and embarked on a three-month journey around Ireland that resulted in the production of his first book, 32 Counties (Secker and Warburg 1989), published while he was still a teenager. In 1990 Wylie was invited to become a nominee of Magnum Photos and in 1998 he became a full member.
Much of his work, often described as 'Archaeo-logies', has stemmed primarily to date from the political and social landscape of Northern Ireland. His book The Maze was published to international acclaim in 2004, as was British Watchtowers in 2007. In 2001 he won a BAFTA for his film The Train.
He has had solo exhibitions at the Photographers' Gallery, London, PhotoEspana, Madrid, and the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television, Bradford, England, and has participated in numerous group shows held at, among other venues, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
Maze 2007/08 is supported by Arts Council Northern Ireland, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Belfast City Council.