James Coleman (born in 1941 in Ballaghaderreen, Republic of Ireland) turned away from painting in the early seventies and devoted himself to the reproductive media (i.e. film, video and photography) and the theatre. The investigation of the possibilities of pictorial representation and its interpretation became the central element of his work. Although James Coleman still works with different artistic media, photography (which he presents in the form of large-scale slide projections) has become his favoured medium.
James Coleman has divided up the Main Hall of the Secession into three darkened rooms for his presentation of slide projections dating from 1987 to 1994. These rooms will display a series of photographs that are blown up and projected on the wall and accompanied by the voice of a narrator.
Seeing for Oneself (1987-88) is one of the wittiest of James Coleman's works. Sequences that display a narrative structure and play in the corridors and halls of a castle are presented in a semi-animated fade-over technique that is familiar to cinema advertising. The actual content of the scenario, which is accompanied by the sound track (and which would seem to have been taken directly from horror films or some similar genre), is just as multi-layered and difficult to grasp as the fantastic and grotesque story that we are left to piece together from the given clues. It is extremely disconcerting to have to slide from one level of meaning to another. In view of the constant changes of perspective, the familiar patterns of perception that we rely on to see and understand what is around us inevitably fail us. Charon was created in 1989 during a visit to the List Visual Arts Center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. The projected pictures join together to form 14 episodes separated from one another by short breaks. They are accompanied by the disinterested voice of a narrator and do not seem to have any recognisable plot. What they all share is their thematic background: namely, photography. They feature the most varied forms of photography and what roles these can play in our modern society: as a rather untrustworthy form of evidence, as fictitious make-believe for advertising, or as a safeguard against forgetfulness and a way of preserving and moulding our view of history. The borders between these sometimes highly contradictory standpoints become more and more blurred in the course of a sequence. This is due not least to the unchanging voice of the narrator who - in spite of the subtle humour with which viewing habits and conventions are undermined - continues on imperturbably with his commentary. Finally, I N I T I A L S (1994) shows a group of people that have all come for a photographic appointment. The scene is set in rooms that are adjacent to an operating theatre. Contrary to the plot of the sequences of pictures that show the protagonists preparing themselves for the camera and forming different groupings, the voice of the narrator diverts more and more from the actual subject of the pictures and begins to go its own way. Postures and looks are of decisive importance in this work. The individual sequences of pictures are oriented towards prototypes from different popular artistic genres such as television series and thrashy novels and at the same time towards other manifestations of art ranging from 17th century Dutch group portraiture to 20th century Irish literature.
When they are presented in darkened rooms, James Coleman's works refuse to allow themselves to be seen from just one point of view. The viewer is challenged to move through the rooms and to find his own favoured viewing place. The continually shifting perspectives and changing forms with which Coleman addresses his public involuntarily involve the viewer in the audio-visual presentations and allow him to take part in the process of de- and reconstruction of perception.