Re-run is a large-scale two-screen video installation; it exists in the unique version owned by Tate and in a single artist’s proof. It was first shown when Doherty represented Great Britain at the São Paulo Bienal in 2002 and was subsequently exhibited at Tate Britain when Doherty was short-listed for the 2003 Turner Prize. The work consists of two silent DVDs projected simultaneously onto two freestanding three by four metre screens positioned to face each other at opposite ends of a self-contained space. Each screen depicts a man in a grey business suit and tie running frantically on the bottom deck of an otherwise empty two-tier road bridge. In one projection he is seen from the front; he is sweating and his face is fearful and anxious. The other screen shows him from behind as if from the point of view of a relentless pursuer. The footage was filmed at night, and both screens are suffused with artificial red light reflected in the roadway. The videos are tightly edited on thirty-second loops, cutting from long and medium shots of the man to close-ups of his head and of his feet pounding the tarmac. The man runs in the middle of the bridge’s span. In neither projection is it possible to see the beginning or the end of his journey. The fast, choppy editing makes it appear as if he is endlessly condemned to running in one place, stuck in an inexorable nightmare.
The large scale of the projections and speed of the images create a physically and psychologically unsettling effect that mimics the state of mind of the character in the videos, who appears to be trying to escape from some unseen threat. Because of the way the screens are positioned, it is not possible to view both projections clearly at the same time. Seeing the man running towards the camera, the audience is invited to empathise with his fear and unease. When watching him from behind, the viewer is put in the aggressive position of a hunter, forever closing in on his heels. Switching his or her attention between the screens, the viewer is caught in an ambiguous middle position, observing but also implicated in the scene.
The work was filmed in Derry, Northern Ireland, where the artist was born and continues to live and work. The bridge where the video was filmed is the Craigavon Bridge which crosses the River Foyle, marking a point of connection between the Protestant and Catholic communities in the city. Doherty had previously made a photographic work on the same site (see The Bridge, 1992, Tate P78746). Derry’s identity as a city split by sectarian violence is echoed in its dual name; it is still widely referred to by its British colonial name, Londonderry. Lying on the border between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland the city has been the site of some of the worst of the Northern Irish Troubles, most infamously Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972, when British soldiers opened fire on protest marchers.
The running man can be seen as a metaphor for a stagnated culture where people living in fear of random violence and terrorism are stuck between opposing and apparently irreconcilable ideological positions. The work’s title alludes to a pattern of political repetition while also describing the literal mechanism of the filmic loops employed in the installation. Although it was filmed in a location with a specific relevance to the Northern Irish situation, Re-run reflects issues and concerns with a more general contemporary resonance. The man in the videos is presented as an everyman; perhaps in an acknowledgement of the conflation of the personal and the universal he is filmed in a suit belonging to the artist.
Charles Merewether, Willie Doherty: Re-run, exhibition brochure, 25th Bienal de São Paulo, 2002, reproduced in colour.
Virginia Button, The Turner Prize: Twenty Years, London, 2003, reproduced p.193 in colour.
Richard Flood, Douglas Fogle, Deepali Dewan, et.al, No Place (Like Home), exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1997.