The twin-screen projection format is too often a sort of stylistic trick, an easy way of instilling a feeling of significance. In Roderick Buchanan’s ‘Scots Irish/Irish Scots’, however, it’s an integral part of the function of the work, encouraging a sort of comparative, divided viewing. A perpendicular wall juts out between the two adjacent screens, making it impossible to completely view both at once, and creating the sense of each film existing within its own, segregated space – both literally and also metaphorically, as the installation explores the conflicting allegiances and identities of Northern Irish history by depicting two ideologically opposed flute bands parading within the same city (a city whose very name is famously divided – between Londonderry or simply Derry – according to cultural heritage).
To make matters even more complex, the bands aren’t even Northern Irish themselves, but hail from Buchanan’s hometown of Glasgow, with its own, deeply entrenched cultural divisions.
On the left screen, then, dressed in imperial red, are the Black Skull Corps of Fife and Drum, performing as part of the city’s Loyalist festivities commemorating the 1689 Siege of Londonderry. On the right, clad in more sombrely imposing black, march the Parkland Republican Flute Band, on the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising – a more subdued affair, with fewer followers, which culminates in a windswept cemetery and a litany of Republican martyrs. Parallel scenes play concurrently, the soundtrack alternating between segments, capturing both the general milling and chatting, as well as the actual musical performances – which are simply enthralling, particularly Parkland’s less jaunty, more weirdly haunting and rhythmically mesmerising fare.
There’s never any feeling of conclusion – how could there be, with issues this fraught and deep-rooted? Rather, what you end up with, both in the film installation and the accompanying photographs of individual band members, is a sense of acute, perpetual conflict: not only between sectarian factions, but also within individuals themselves – between their rigidly performed, culturally circumscribed roles, and their more ambiguous, complex shades of humanity. Magnificent.