Combining Fact and Fiction

Turner Prize winner Duncan Campbell new piece is at Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, until May; The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy is the artist’s first creation since receiving the award in 2014. As with other examples in his oeuvre, the film is underpinned by extensive research into archival material, with the roots of the film spanning from Paul Hocking’s and Mark McCarty’s 1968 documentary The Village, alongside other anthropological studies from the Irish Film Institute’s collections.

The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy takes the location of Hocking’s and McCarty’s piece as the central filming site, the Kerry village of Dún Chaoin. The direct influence of The Village is shown in the integration of newly scripted material shot with actors from its original footage. In echoing scenes from the documentary that captured the everyday routine of the town, from rabbit hunting to gatherings in the local public house, Campbell highlights the assumptions, ethics and misconceptions the frame the relationship between filmmakers and subjects.

The use of material, dialogue and ideas from The Village in turn questions the validity of the documentary form as historical representation, blurring fact, fiction and interpretation through the combination of the authentic and the fictional. This distortion of boundaries is a concept that is recurrent throughout the filmmaker’s career. The piece, and the sources of its inspiration, represent the uses and misuses of the past, and furthermore, explores the societal shifts and misrepresentations that still resonate with contemporary Ireland today. This is in part due to Campbell’s extensive research of a particular period in history, to create a representation of Ireland that at first seems familiar.

The film focuses on the long history of ethnographic study in the rural communities of western Ireland, progressing to depict the rural behaviours as tainted by performativity and ritual. The director highlights specifically when the traditional perceptions of the Gaelic language changes, acting rather as a barrier to social progress to Dún Chaoin and many villages like it.

Duncan Campbell’s The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy, IMMA, Dublin, until 7 May. Visit:

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1. Duncan Campbell, The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy (film still). Courtesy of IMMA.