Under the Stairs

One of the most crucial debates taking place today is the issue of rationality versus religious belief. Commentators like Richard Dawkins would argue that god as a cultural contract has ill served mankind and his presence has only led to war and atrocities. Rationalism and scientific method on the other hand, dealing with what we can know, through study and experiment has only benefited mankind as evidenced in the material success of first world countries that have embraced such notions since the 18th Century Enlightenment era.

The issue of belief and its dynamics is central to the work of Martin Healy. It is probably telling that much popular television of the past decade has engaged in issues of the paranormal; Healy is asking the question why. Why in this digital age the western audience dedicates hours to watching programmes like The X-Files. In 2001, Healy made a trip to Long Island in New York to try to find and photograph the house that was featured in the novel and later movie “The Amityville Horror”. The resulting images show banal night time streetscapes. And here is Healy’s artistry. He doesn’t present us with eerie subjects but merely the contexts within which these things were meant to happen. So a Healy image immediately flips us into the absent narrative, into the story, the folklore, and the myth. Healy suggests subtly that we are hardwired for such tales be they the goblins of old, or the techno illumination of a Steven Spielberg flying saucer.

In Skywatcher, 2007, Healy himself directly tackles the issues surrounding flying saucers. His investigations - his practice usually involves research and travelling to the actual sites of these phenomena - brought him to Warminster in Wiltshire, where in the 1960s /70s there was a series of UFO sightings. Several books were subsequently published on the incidents. Healy located Kevin Goodman, one of the authors, and filmed a series of interviews with him. Extracts from these interviews form the core material of Skywatcher. But it is in the formal method of its presentation that Healy transmutes this documentary material to art. Using dual projections at right angles to each other Healy’s narrator flips from one screen to the other as he recounts his encounters and muses on their meanings. Sometimes he is accompanied on the opposite screen by an image from the region, sometimes he is alone. The presentation of Kevin’s argument contains no editorial stance, the artist cannot be seen to agree or disagree with him, but the dual projection prompts the viewer to examine Kevin’s evidence rather than to be merely seduced into the tale.

In 2007, Martin Healy first presented Skywatcher at the Royal Hibernian Academy. The exhibition included a number of other works and overall it was titled “I want to believe”. In that title Healy acutely captures the feeling of many in the post-industrialist world and in the individual pieces he has created he offers us no respite from that dilemma.

Patrick T. Murphy, Director of The Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin.