This text was instigated at Paragon Studios in Belfast for the exhibition PALISADE.
(Part of the #Peacewalls50 Series of events)
It will develop over the course the exhibition.
/ Ballygomartin Road /
Wall is a single point, expanded. There is more than one wall in this place. Around every wall is an environment and, at certain times – say, in periods of unrest – we who inhabit this place expand. That is, our sense of self or ego expands to fill the entire environment. We individuals, our sense of self, expands beyond the boundary of our skin and, in this way, the environment becomes thick with emotion. Thick like fog or like smoke billowing up from each individually lit fire.
/ Dense Stratification /
After the fires on Cliftonpark Avenue they erected a dense stratification of: concrete foundation, concrete block, profiled metal sheeting, mild steel angles, scaffold bar, razor wire, metal palisade fencing and roller spikes. Over time these materials have changed and, more recently, the heavy, opaque constructions have been replaced by a lighter, more candid fencing. Perhaps one day these will all be retractable, like the one on St. Matthews Court with its potential to be not a wall. Perhaps even later, some time in the future, all of walls will dematerialize into mere geometry, a simple line. But whatever its material, the idea of wall will always remain. For generations now there has been nothing in the world more important.
/ Generalised contraction /
But let us return to the violence that is just under the skin and the pathology of atmosphere from which symptoms arise. Stomach ulcers. Nephritic colic. Menstruation trouble in women. Sleeplessness. Hair turning white. Accelerated cardiac rhythm and intense sweating. Generalised contraction with muscular stiffness. Skin disorders. From all of this we know that, by its very nature, power is separatist and regionalist, that its aim is to divide what it seeks to control and that, consciously or not, our aim is to resist.
/ Postmemory /
In 1992, Marianne Hirsch introduced the term “postmemory” into contemporary discourse. The term was originally used primarily to refer to the relationship between the children of Holocaust survivors and the memories of their parents, but has since been expanded to relate to multiple post-conflict or post-traumatic situations. “Postmemory” questions how the stories, narratives, images and behaviours of one generation allow the following generations to ‘experience’ the personal, collective and cultural trauma of their more elderly relatives and friends. I think of this as I encounter two young friends on Brucevale Park, as a construction team are in the process of removing the ‘Girdwood’ perimeter - a perimeter of a former British Army base. One of the boys is waving a republican tricolour tacked to a short piece of timber. As I ask if I can take their photograph, they strike combative poses, and start chanting shouts of support for the IRA. They can only be six or seven years old, and are certainly post-ceasefire children. They have already been inducted into a particular ideological system. Ardoyne born writer Paul McVeigh, in his introduction to Toby Binder’s photo-book “Wee Muckers’ reflects on how an accident of birth was responsible for his sense of identity and ideological orientation: “If I had been born at the top of my street, behind the corrugated-iron border (on Alliance Avenue), I would have been British, incredible to think. My whole idea of myself, the attachments made to a culture, heritage, religion, nationalism and politics are all an accident of birth. I was one street away from being born my ‘enemy’”.
Everyone is born into a particular culture, and raised within certain traditions that recognise historical relationships to kith and kin. It is natural and human to pass on these traditions, these lineages, these connections. But when these connections are forged in a conflict situation, the intensity of the circumstances tends toward narratives that might, in their repetition over-simplify, flatten or exagerate, mould and remould into received and ever more dominant narrative tropes. Memory is that slippery thing that can never be verified, and yet in its reproduction, is responsible for so much. The generation of “postmemory” and its reliance on narratives as a primary medium of transgenerational transmission of trauma, needs to be questioned.
/ Immaterial Psychic Dimension /
Since my initial contacts with the sites in question, I now realize that my initial methodology, while undoubtedly useful, may only reveal a partial story about the sites which may be too one-dimensional and simplistic. There is much more going on in these areas than a material scan will reveal – an immaterial psychic dimension to the sites, related to their implication in acts of violence and killing that has impacted on communities on both sides of the sectarian divide. I have come to understand the sites as a cluster of post-traumatic landscapes, with the evidence of this trauma deeply embedded and frequently invisible to the naked eye. How this phenomenon is represented in a balanced way is a challenging question to address at the present time, as it affects the approach to documentation, recording and representation of all of the sites, and this will, in turn, determine what gets proposed as an intervention in these spaces.