John Carson was an art student in Belfast in 1975 when he first met the subjects of his video installation Timelines. He wanted a project that would get him out of the classroom. He also wanted to show that in spite of the violence in Northern Ireland, people's relationships were not divided the way the ideologues suggested they must be.
Carson photographed and mapped a network of friends and relations and relations of friends. The result was Friend Map, part of the larger project Friends, Walks, Hills, Invisible Lines & Belfast Lough.
Three decades later, Carson -- now head of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Art -- is known for humorous, if pointed, works on everything from gender miscommunication and Britain's overabundance of CCTV cameras to reflections on American and Irish clichés. He has worked in many media. But Carson says that upon turning 50, which is "when you have to describe yourself as middle-aged whether you want to or not," he decided to look backward.
So Carson returned to the subjects of Friend Map. This time, he wanted them to tell their own stories. A dozen of the subjects had passed away, but 40 people still living in and around Belfast were interviewed for Timelines, which debuts locally Jan. 28 as an installation at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Gallery combining projected video and a video monitor. The original Friend Map will also be exhibited, along with photographs of the subjects.
These video excerpts touch on Northern Ireland's troubles and how people survive when violence is a constant, but there are plenty of universal themes. Each subject reflects on life, loss and how it all turned out compared to their expectations. Each life is unique, but "there's a commonality that runs through the group," Carson says. The work isn't just for old-timers, either: Carson has found it interesting to watch students' reactions to the testimony as it made them consider their own futures.
Carson sees his work as hopeful -- the relative peace in Northern Ireland since 1998 suggests that other conflicts can be solved. He intends his installation as a reflective, intimate experience in which viewers can choose how much time they spend with each individual. Moving from Friend Map to Timelines is "like an expanded snapshot," he says. "Most snapshots cover about half a second. This one covers 35 years."
Timelines Opening reception: 6-9 p.m. Fri., Jan. 28. Exhibit continues through March 13. Pittsburgh Filmmakers Gallery, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. Free. 412-681-5449 or www.pghfilmmakers.org