Dance – State: bridging the border through dance in 1980s Derry
Text by Shoair Mavlian

This article provides some insight into the context in which Marie Barrett made Dance – State, a collaborative project in 1980s Derry that was recently included in the Photoworks exhibition Dancing in Peckham as part of Peckham 24.

Marie Barrett is based in Derry in Northern Ireland. Much of her practice involves public site-specific works made in conjunction with local communities. Typically working across the traditional republican–unionist divide, she attempts to encourage dialogue between often-divergent community groups.

At the height of the Troubles in 1988–89, Barrett researched public space in Derry in collaboration with Derry City Council, and identified that the two most frequented buildings at the time were the job centre and a nightclub called Squires. She set out to create a work that would capture, edit, and remix the experience of the youth of Derry at the time. Barrett worked in collaboration with a group of young people from a cross-community training programme for nine months, shooting primarily at night. The resulting multiscreen work, Dance – State, premiered at Squires on 31 March 1989.

Dance – State consisted of a three minute looped video that combined text and soundscape with images of army helicopters, surveillance cameras, taxi drivers, and locals to reflect the sometimes surreal experience of nightlife in the city centre. The work was shown on what was then state-of-the-art technology – an 18-monitor video wall, which was a permanent fixture in Squires. By using this existing equipment, Barrett let the design of the nightclub set the parameters for the physical installation and structure of the work. The nightclub setting was also intended to bridge the gap between the formality of traditional galleries and the more relaxed atmosphere of other public spaces. Screened every weekend for a month, Dance – State received positive feedback from both artists and young people across the city. It went on to be screened at the legendary Haçienda nightclub in Manchester, where it was accompanied by a series of talks and workshops by Barrett and her collaborators.

The original video footage for Dance – State no longer exists. Like many early time-based media installations and video works, documentation, preservation, and archiving were often overlooked. Luckily, Barrett documented the installation both at Squire and the Haçienda, and it was these images that were shown (both in colour and black and white) at Peckham 24, alongside archival flyers and news articles.

Dance – State reflects the time in which it was made, referencing the local context of youth communities in Northern Ireland during the Troubles but also telling a wider story of the rise of acid house and rave music in the late 1980s, which went on to dominate youth culture in the following decade. Made almost 30 years ago, it still holds relevance today.

For more from #2 Dance  click here. 

To read more of Marie’s work, click here. 

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