Teddy Boy and Girl, Petticoat Lane. © Roger Mayne. 1961

From Issue 6: Making History Final

The exhibition Making History: Art and Documentary in Britain from 1929 to Now shown in 2006 at Tate Liverpool, claimed to ‘survey the impact of the documentary form on art and artists and vice versa’. In this review of the exhibition Mike Ricketts and Hope Kingsley considered this claim and looked for points of synthesis between art and the document in the show.

It appears that we have reached an extraordinary moment, one that we could not have contrived.” The camera zooms in on Desmond Tutu, spot-lit in the darkness. The Archbishop turns from a forty-something man in a leather jacket to face a tearful woman of similar age seated at the other end of a long table. Tutu’s seemingly impossible task is to suggest, tentatively, that this defiant, shattered widow shake hands with the man opposite her, an ex-Loyalist paramilitary who has just told her of his involvement in the murder of her husband.

The BBC’s televised ‘truth and reconciliation’ sessions in Northern Ireland (“Facing the Truth,” BBC2, 6 March, 2006) resulted in some truly compelling footage, a powerful and disturbing mutation of ‘reality TV’. The series hinges, even trades, on how past traumas can live on, unresolved, in everyday lives and psyches.

There are interesting parallels here with the concerns of contemporary artists which featured in Tate Liverpool’s exhibition, Making History. Though more consciously layered and encoded than the BBC programme, art works by Willie Doherty, Jeremy Deller, and Isaac Julien addressed the abiding imprint of historically distant experiences. Old wounds were invoked; Doherty visualised the Troubles, Deller restaged an incident in the 1984 miner’s strike, and Julien dramatized the legacies of colonialism.

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Published in Photoworks Annual Issue 6, 2007
Commissioned by Photoworks