Single-channel high-definition colour video with sound. Dimensions 1920 x 1080. Duration 11 minutes 06 seconds, played on a loop. (2009)
Filmed at various locations including Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon's Park, Upper Malone Road Belfast; Minnowburn, South Belfast; Mussenden Temple near Castlerock and Benone Strand, County Londonderry.
Helen (the library was my great project) is a high-definition video work that takes the form of a short narrative. This work combines my interests in representations of the Northern Irish landscape, representations of women in the cinema and nineteenth century literature as well as contemporary literary adaptations. In this work, I have created a fictional character through which to consider issues such as class, education, national identity and literary illusion. These issues are examined against the backdrop of Northern Ireland, in an historical mode. The work features an original script written specifically for this piece, which allows the story of the titular character to be told. Set in the nineteenth century, this work required comprehensive research in order for the narrative to have a relationship with that era. Extensive research into nineteenth century literature and real Irish/Northern Irish women’s letters of the time allowed me to create a voice that was compatible, whilst socio-historical research allowed me to comment on class, education and gender with accuracy.
The story involves a fictional female character who narrates her own story in the first person, as if speaking directly to the viewer. This is a narrative device, which I decided to use after much research into the conventions of period drama including televised and cinematic literary adaptations. Working-class women in nineteenth century literature or in contemporary adaptations are not widely characterised with qualities such as intellectual ability and independence, but Helen represents an educated, independent woman who is a figure in an optimistic narrative. As a working-class female subject, she is exceptional in that her voice is being heard and in fact, is the driving force of the narrative. The pace of the voiceover is determined by her thoughts and actions, which in turn determines the unconventional narrative structure.
Helen represents a female figure whose national identity is recognisable through her subjective point-of-view of the Northern Irish landscape; a deviation from the passivity of the Irish female in mainstream representations like The Quiet Man. Helen’s national identity is not signified by her appearance within the landscape, but by her active relationship with the landscape. Although she sees the landscape as a place to exist, she is not defined by it and it does not consume her: ‘Landscapes do not know me and cannot judge me.’ (Excerpt from script of Helen.) The landscape makes her curious and she acts within it. Extreme close-up shots are used within the video to reflect Helen’s curiosity whilst wide-angled shots of the landscapes represent her point-of-view.
Helen plays on the expectations of the costume drama by, for example, referring to the opening titles and score, which often feature classical music. The violin music at the beginning of Helen suggests this convention, but the music’s deliberate imperfection combined with the unconventional first shot of the video thwart these expectations. A non-establishing shot of a brick wall marks the beginning of this narrative, which departs from the conventional structures of mainstream narrative cinema. My use of shots and editing privilege the point-of-view of the female character in a way that also acknowledges the presence of the camera and hence the viewer, challenging the very nature of cinematic illusion. This work reflects my interest in the conventions of filmmaking and stems from research into relationships between cinema and video. It features a more circular narrative structure than the linear narratives of cinema and in doing so suggests an area where video can make a challenge to mainstream cinema.