Friday, April 23, 2010

Beyond the Roundabout

‘Beyond the Roundabout’ is a laudable concept; as a response to the biggest event in this city in living memory, the Belltable (with the support of the Arts Council) have commissioned independent film-maker,Nicky Larkin, to engage with the regeneration of certain parts of the city over an eight month period.
I went to see the film on Wednesday night.
I had a personal interest because I had met with the affable Mr Larkin a number of times when he was filming, usually in my neighbour’s house in Weston gardens. The night of the screening the same neighbour was standing outside the Belltable distributing leaflets that explained his decision to have his name and his input removed from the film. He had been ejected from the Belltable before I arrived, on the grounds that he was prejudicing the opinions of the audience before they had even seen the film, which was a fair point; he had certainly coloured my expectations. From his reaction to the preview, I had imagined a one-sided uncritical vindication of the Regeneration Project.

I was surprised.

Mr Larkin’s film is not a documentary with bias, nor is it an even-handed documentary. It is not a documentary at all, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It is a collage of well-composed and often poignant imagery that proceeds at a deliberately measured pace, giving the audience plenty of time to think about what they are seeing. A technique that was, certainly in the beginning, extremely effective.

For those of us who live alongside the decay and devastation of some of these areas it can become easy to ‘block it out’ after a while and not really see it anymore. Sitting in a darkened room and sharing the collective horror and disgust brought it all back. Mr Larkin’s portrayal of sheer ugliness was unflinching, and was done well.

Unfortunately for a film of 45 minutes length, he didn’t portray anything else. His use of black space, silence, and half-heard echoes, which gave the film a disconnected dream-like quality in the beginning, became simply annoying after a while. The (unidentified) voice of Brendan Kenny is heard passionlessly defending himself against accusations that nobody makes. The Residents, when they appear, are nervous, and the combination of nerves, strong accents and poor sound quality make them incomprehensible. Also, while what we do see of the Regeneration areas is beautifully shot, we don’t see very much of them. Mr Larkin was economical enough to use the same burnt-out house at least five different times in long-lingering shots from different angles. This may have been deliberate, but combined with the black spaces and poor quality sound, it just came across as lazy.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking of all was his depiction of children as gangland gargoyles, either literally voiceless, with the soundtrack removed or “scobing it up” for the camera; singing rap-songs about stabbing and ‘giving the finger’.

It is very hard to know what, if anything is meant by any of this, and it can be argued that as a piece of Art,- Mr Larkin’s film doesn’t have to mean anything at all. But if this is the case, why include the voices of Mr Kenny and the residents discussing Regeneration? Mr Larkin’s talent and concern is clearly imagery; the inclusion of unidentified opinions and musings seem totally unnecessary to his film as Art and feel more like an attempt to pay literal lip-service to the films stated objective.
Aesthetically, it undermines the experience and confuses the audience as brains search desperately for a connection between the images and soundtrack, before finally giving up in frustration.
The Aspirations of the Belltable and the Arts council in commissioning this work remain laudable, so it is doubly tragic that so much time, money, labour, and good intentions on what amounts to a visual cliché of gangland limerick that illustrates very little except perhaps Mr Larkin’s skill as a photographer and his limitations as an editor.




  1. Nicky's reply:
    A piece of art doesn't necessarily have to exist on the gallery wall, or be about something abstract or conceptual. Just because my subject matter is real, rather than imagined or conceived, doesn't automatically mean it is not art. This film is an artistic response to a period in a time of supposed great change in the city of Limerick. That was my only brief.

    At the same time, and as has been mentioned, the film is not a documentary, and was never intended to be a documentary. It is shot and edited in a deliberately slow and precise style. If you look at my other work, such as my piece Pripyat, shot in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, you will see that I have a very particular style of working.

    As an artist, it is not my duty to make people happy. If there is such a thing as the role of the artist, then surely it is to ask questions/provoke debate? It has been said many times that my piece asks more questions than it answers, which I think is the case. It does not exist to promote either side of the argument; in fact at the preview screening mentioned in the initial post, one prominent Moyross resident said that he was "delighted that finally somebody was telling the truth about what was going on." Another local woman involved with the project described it as “a very real and true depiction.”

    There are very strong opinions on all sides involved, and it would be impossible for a piece such as this to please everybody. Each individual interpretation of a piece of art will be always be different; that is surely one of the most fascinating things about art? However, the price we pay for this element, is that not everybody is always going to be happy with what has been created. That, I'm afraid, is the nature of art.

    However - as is illustrated here; there exists today a medium for debate like never before, with internet sites, blogs, boards etc.....and we live in a democracy. People don’t have to like this piece. And if people don't like this piece, then they don't have to stay silent about it. Everybody has the right to an opinion, and to express that opinion.

    But, if as it has been claimed, there is such heated debate taking place about this film; and therefore Limerick regeneration in general, surely then it is highly-sucessful as a piece of art ???