Duncan Campbell, The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy, 2016 (still). Photo courtesy of Rina Yang.
The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy

#IrishFilm: Turner Prize winner Duncan Campbell presents his new film at IMMA

Following his first major exhibition in Dublin at IMMA in 2014, the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) will present a new film work by Irish-born artist Duncan Campbell. Entitled The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy this is the artist’s first film based in the Republic of Ireland and his first new work since winning the Turner Prize in 2014; when he was the first Irish born artist to do so. Funded in part by the Irish Film Board this is also the first of Campbell’s films to feature actors and scripted scenes and marks the first time that IMMA and Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board have collaborated on a film work.

Commenting on the collaboration James Hickey, Chief Executive, Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board said:

We are delighted to have had an opportunity to work with renowned Irish artist Duncan Campbell and for his work to be seen not only in art galleries but potentially by audiences at film festivals and markets around the world.  The IFB is open to supporting filmmakers from all artistic disciplines with the aim to further developing their talent in film.  We are also delighted to work in partnership with IMMA on this project.

This commission is presented as part of an exciting on-going initiative, New Art at IMMA, supported by Matheson, which allows IMMA to continue to support artists’ vital work in a strand of programming that recognises and nurtures new and emerging talents, new thinking and new forms of exhibition-making. Duncan Campbell will be speaking to staff to Matheson this evening about his new work and Tim Scanlon Corporate Partner, Matheson commented today:

Ireland is world renowned for its rich culture, heritage and, most notably, the creative talent that exists here. Recognising and nurturing this talent is key, and Irish business has a role to play in further developing the work of our cultural institutions and our talented and aspiring individuals. As a leading Irish law firm, Matheson is proud to partner with IMMA in supporting and encouraging the arts. Duncan Campbell, recipient of the 2014 Turner prize, is testament to the wealth of talent that exists here and we are privileged to have Duncan at our offices this evening speaking about his new work.

As with many of Campbell’s films this new work is underpinned by extensive research into archival and documentary material. In this instance, stemming from research in the archive of the IFI (Irish Film Institute), the work takes Paul Hockings and Mark McCarty’s 1968 documentary film The Village as a starting point alongside three influential anthropological studies; Inis Beag by John C. Messenger, Inishkillane: Change and Decline in the West of Ireland by Hugh Brody and, in particular, Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics by Nancy Scheper-Hughes.

Commenting on this new work Ross Keane, Director of the Irish Film Institute said:

The Village is a fascinating ethnographic documentary looking at how modernisation affected the inhabitants of Dún Chaoin and their relationship with the unpopulated Blasket Islands, and we are delighted that Duncan Campbell found inspiration for his latest work from this film and through his research into our collection at the IFI Irish Film Archive.

The Welfare of Tomas Ó Hallissy is filmed in and around the Kerry village of Dún Chaoin and directly integrates newly scripted material shot with actors with footage from The Village which was also set in Dún Chaoin.  Indeed this new film is set against a fictional visit by two American anthropologists to Dún Chaoin, mirroring the premise of Hockings and McCarty’s 1968 documentary. Campbell’s original material also echoes key scenes from documentary that captured the day to day routine of the village; the creamery, turf cutting, rabbit hunting and gatherings in the local pub. In revisiting these scenes Campbell looks at some of the assumptions, ethics and misconceptions that frame the relationship between the filmmakers and the villagers.

As with many of Campbell’s works The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy questions the validity of documentary form as historical representation, blurring fact, and fiction, recording and interpretation. His extensive research into a specific time and context uncovers the unknown and unexpected in a representation of Ireland that at first seems familiar. On one level The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy represents the uses and misuses of the past as the implications of the societal shifts and misrepresentations it explores still resonate and inform contemporary Ireland today.

The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy takes into account the long history of ethnographic study in rural communities in the west of Ireland.  In particular Campbell is interested in the moment when the revered Gaelic speaking peasant culture society of places like Dún Chaoin came to be seen as an obstacle to progress. In various ways the anthropological studies he draws on link the increasing predominance of the ‘bachelor farmer’,  sexual repression, the breakdown of the traditional family structure and conflicts over farm inheritance as contributing to the high levels of mental illness in rural Ireland at the time. In Campbell’s film the rural traditions continue but are coloured by sense of the subjects are either acting out or resisting the roles expected of them by their visitors. The depiction of village life is mediated by attempts by the anthropologists to say what is not said and a simmering anger and impotence that fleetingly appears in a drunken scuffle that closes the film.

Duncan Campbell himself says of the wor:

The film is set at the interface of the activist perspective of the two American anthropologists and their focus on individual minds to be saved; and the communal but conservatively Catholic perspective of the people they are studying. The main character in the film is a speechless 10 year-old boy, Tomás, who is seen in the light of the tension between these two perspectives.’  At the heart of the film is the question of Tomás’ welfare and, if he is in need of salvation – whether this lies in tradition or modernity.

The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy is commissioned by the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) Dublin with co-commissioners Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and Western Front, Canada. This new work has been made possible through the support of commissioning partners; Irish Film Board; the IFI Irish Film Archive; Creative Scotland; Nakba Filmworks; Fastnet Films, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Matheson, who proudly support New Art at IMMA. The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy is part of the official Ireland 2016 programme.

This commission is one of three major new works that have been commissioned by IMMA as part of their 2016 programme. Other works include The Humanizer by Simon Fujiwara; a sound and installation work of an imagined Hollywood biopic of Sir Roger Casement and If the Ground Should Open… by Irish artist Jaki Irvine, a sound and film work currently on view in IMMA that traces our past and present from the forgotten women of the Rising through to the leaked Anglo Irish tapes of recent years.