After our stay in Galway, our class is heading south towards the Blasket Islands. In preparation for what we'll see, each person in the class is doing some research on a few different subjects. My first topic is the Blasket Centre, or Ionad an Bhlascaoid in Irish. This Centre is located in the mainland town of Dunquin (Dun Chaoin in Irish), on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula. The Blasket Centre is dedicated to telling the stories and history of the people who lived on the Blasket Islands until 1953 when the island was evacuated. While the Blasket Islands are uninhabited now, visitors can take a ferry to spend time on the islands, exploring the abundant open spaces there. The Blasket Centre seeks to enrich this experience with historical information about the Blasket People, and their time on the island.
The Blasket Centre is set up much like a museum, featuring all the information one might want to know about the Blaskets. This includes the lives of the people there, both as fishermen and as farmers, and information on their way of life and traditions. The people on the Blaskets spoke exclusively Irish, and much of their literature is still celebrated today as some of the finest examples of Irish language literature. The Centre allows visitors to see some of the writings for themselves, and gain a better understanding of their importance. There are also several exhibits on the flora and fauna of the islands, their unique ecosystems. All of this creates an environment where anyone can gain a better understanding of the life and history of the Blasket Islands.
Beyond a museum, however, the Blasket Centre creates a community for the lovers of the Irish language and the Blasket Islands. Each year, they host the 'Comóradh Bhliantúil an Bhlascaoid Mhóir,' or the “Annual Blasket Commemoration.” This event usually has one central theme, and last years was the Irish Language, and its state in the present day. Many authors and experts were invited to come lecture and share their views with the public. This years theme has not yet been announced, as the event takes place in October. This keeps the Blasket community alive, and helps to propage knowledge and interest in this unique culture.
Yesterday, during our free time, I decided to go visit the Derry City Cemetery. I'd seen this cemetery while on the city walls (in the top right corner of the photo) and it seemed like an interesting place. After walking up the hill, I passed through the opening gates and realized that this cemetery was much, much bigger than I'd anticipated. It stretches over half a kilometer across a steep hill, containing thousands of graves.
The cemetery is a very peaceful place, with a lovely view of the city and the River Foyle. I took a few hours to wander around and admire the landscape. At first glance, what stuck me the most was the amount of family plots. There are very few single graves in this cemetery. Instead, one headstone is used for a family plot, under which many family members may be buried.
I came upon a very striking, big old tree, and took a little while to draw it. This cemetery was a very interesting place to be. Everything was very peaceful and serene.
But now, a little history about the Derry City Cemetery. In the mid 1800s, the most popular cemeteries, those attached to St. Columb's Cathedral, St. Augustine's Church, and the Long Island Tower, were becoming very overcrowded. In 1867, they closed, and only those who already had a family plot in the cemetery could be buried there. In order to resolve this, the city opened the Derry City Cemetery in 1853. Because the city own the land, people do not buy pieces of land but the right to burial in them. The first reported burial at the Derry City Cemetery was that of Robert McClelland, a 10 month old child, on the 10th of December. The first adult buried there was Joseph Bigger on the 12th of January, 1854. Over the 161 years it has been opened (from 1853 to the present day) 74,594 burials have taken place there.
One of the aspects of this place that I found very interesting is that, for the longest time, it was used by both Protestants and Catholics. Despite the inequalities and uneasiness between the two groups, both used the same cemetery extensively, well into the 20th century. I suppose that just goes to show that death makes us all equal.
During the time of the Troubles, as many Protestants increasingly move to the Waterside, they began to bury their dead in the Altnagelvin and Ballyoan cemeteries, and today the majority of burials at the Derry City Cemetery are Catholic. The cemetery is still open to everyone, however, and, as the City of Derry~Londonderry puts it, “a place of stories – stories of the famous and infamous; of joy and tragedy; of traditions and beliefs.”
This cemetery has graves spanning back to the Victorian era, creating an interesting documentation of the evolution of funerary architecture.
During the Victorian Era, funerals (like much life) were treated with a great amount of pomp and had the tendency to be extremely elaborate and expensive. Grave markers were very elaborate, and often very large. The most popular symbols were neoclassical ones, including covered vases, anchors, broken pillars, and celtic crosses. Covered vases were taken directly from the Greek tradition, where vases (likely inspired by urns used to hold ashes) were the average grave marker. Anchors symbolize confidence and safety, and were used in ancient times to disguise crosses, which they are still associated with. Broken columns are also of greek influence, and are usually used to symbolise an young person's death, or the end of a family line. Celtic Crosses are reminiscent of the Celtic Revival in the late 1800s, and are often filled with extra ornamentation or symbols.
After the Victorian Era came the Edwardian Era, a time when people began to frown upon the decadence of those that came before them. The mass deaths from the world wars led to far simpler, austere memorial architecture.
Today's headstones are simple, and are usually built off one or two templates, to make manufacturing easier. Due to the advances in technology, many modern graves have more involved inscriptions and text.
Seeing all of these different forms of funerary markers side by side was very interesting. This cemetery was, in many ways, a very good documentation of the cultures and people that lived here, from the 1860s to the time of the Troubles, and beyond.
The second place with a fun name that I visited today name was the Derry Fab Lab, which I stumbled upon purely by accident. This is one hundreds of "Fabrication Laboratories" run through the Fab Foundation. The Fab Foundation is a non-profit organisation that emerged fro MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, and is dedicated to bringing 3D printing technology to people around the world, or, as their motto states, to "Allow anyone to make (almost) anything." As someone who has been looking into 3D printing, this place was simply astounding. The problem that most people run into with this sort of technological progress is that is costs far too much. "Digital Fabrication" is an amazing, ever expanding field, but the machines necessary are not cheap. The Fab Labs are a way to work around this.
The Fab Foundation is very complex, with three branches: education, organization/capacity building, and business. I will be talking about the organization side of the Foundation, as that is what I explored today. I highly recommend taking a look at their about page here to get an understanding of the full scope of the services of the Fab Foundation.
The Fab Labs are a land of opportunity for people looking to digitally create. Each one adheres to the Fab Charter, and include a long list of machines capable of creating using different medias. This website gives a great overview of the machines, which include:
- computers and tablets for designing, running freeware designing/3D designing software
- 3D scanners
- 3D printers
- large-scale woodcutters
- laser-cutting and engraving machines
- vinyl cutters
- precision millers
- machines for building various electronic pieces
There are a few more, but that's the basic list. The idea here is that anyone anywhere can design and build something, then send the plans and files to anyone at any other fab lab, and have that other person recreate it. This is pretty incredible in and of itself, and even more impressive when you consider that people are using the facilities here to create things including portable speakers, tables, chairs, puppet theaters (as you can see in the picture) dolls, craft supplies (like rubber stamps) and so much more.
Another quintessential part of the Fab Labs is that they be accessible to the public. The way this works at the lab in Derry is that, every Friday, people can sign up for free classes on how to use a specific machine. After a class that usually lasts about 3 hours, staff member will 'certify' the person in using that machine, and, from then on, that person can book time slots to come in and use said machine as much as they want (with staff supervision). The only cost is that of the raw materials (ie. plastic, wood, vinyl) that they are printing with of cutting out.
I have to say, wandering around this place, I felt like I'd just entered some magical pocket dimension of pure awesomeness where everything was suddenly possible. The idea that I could, if I so desired, walk off the street, sign up for some classes, and learn to become proficient with 3D printers was just mind boggling, and the fact that it's all free just added to my amazement.
Admittedly, I had a hard time containing my daydreams as I walked around all of these machines just waiting for someone to use them....
The community feeling of the space was lovely as well. Staff members were amazingly friendly, and were glad to show me around their facility. I watched people teaching each other, bouncing ideas back and forth, and discovering new things with each other's influences. This lab isn't just a collection of fancy machinery. It's a place where people come to learn, imagine and create.
Needless to say, I was totally sold by the time I strolled back out, and I plan to continue to do more extensive research into the Fab Foundation. After all, just because there is no Fab Lab in Denver yet doesn't mean there can't be one in the future....
Despite sounding like an electro band, The Void is actually a place in Derry!
Because we had a free day today, Austin, Josh, Adam, and I started by going to the Void, a contemporary art gallery, education center, and studio space just a few blocks from the Derry city center. The current exhibition, which we had seen flyers for around town, was a set of three pieces called "Haunted" by Canadian artist Kelly Richardson.
These three pieces were called "Mariner 9" (2012), "Orion Tide" (2013), and "Exiles of the Shattered Star" (2006) and took the form of massive projections of surrealist landscapes. Each had its own room, and, once you stepped inside, you got to experience another world. The first of these, "Mariner 9," featured a large, futuristic space scene, with gales of wind blowing across it. The scene was littered with wreckage, and a few despondent rovers moved sluggishly. The artist described this piece as, "a huge panoramic view of Mars at a fixed point in time 100-200 years in the future, presenting a minutely detailed battlefield of real and imagined spacecraft amidst a dust storm. Whilst most of the failing, abandoned craft are no more than corroding remains, some still partially function, attempting to find signs of life and occasionally transmitting data back to a planet where possibly there’s no-one left to receive it."
The following video is the Void's trailer for "Mariner 9," and gives a fairly good idea of the feeling and landscape it portrays.
For a closer look at the installation itself, you can watch a film of its premiere here.
This first piece was really mind-blowing for me. I've always loved installation art for the potential that it has to transport people to another universe, and this was a prime example of this phenomenon. You enter the projection room after walking down a hallways with three 90 degree turns in it. The room is pitch black with two benches, and the long projection of "Mariner 9" goes across the wall, endlessly playing its film of the desolate space-scape. The long hallway helped remove the room from the rest of the gallery, and the surround sound projection made the room its own little world. Sitting on the bench, looking out at the scene made me forget that I was looking at one flat wall. Instead, I very quickly lost myself in the foreign world. I was perfectly content to sit there, absorbing the little details of the light, the slowly moving machinery, and the billowing dust. The sound of the wind, combined with creaking metal completed the scene perfectly. I this whole piece had everything I hope to seen in installations art. It was of good quality, with well done craftsmanship and technical skills, was well inserted into the space, and carried me into a different universe.
The second piece, "Orion Tide," gave some extra insight into "Mariner 9." As the artist put it, the installation was, "a possible explanation for Mariner 9 with what appears to be countless rockets exiting planet Earth. Are we distracted by war with an unknown enemy or have we already lost the battle and are abandoning our posts?" This piece was set up much like "Mariner 9," but on a slightly smaller scale. The scene features a flat plain with explosions rising from it rhythmic and consistently. While this piece did not seem as technically impressive as the first, I very much enjoyed it in context of "Mariner 9." The two pieces worked well together, and "Orion Tide" gave some of the dynamism that "Mariner 9" lacked, while the Mariner was more complex and technically impressive than Orion.
The third and final work was also the oldest of the three. This piece, "Exiles of the Shattered Star," was described as, "perhaps not only the destruction of the Lake District but also perhaps the destruction of the high ideals of the Romantic poets. Arguably the bleakest of all the works in Haunted, as Morrissey put it: ‘Hopes may rise on the Grasmere but Honey Pie, you’re not safe here.'" It was also clearly older than the other two. While the setup was much the same, it was technically much less well put together. The environment and the subject matter did not mesh together the was the pieces of "Mariner 9," and I lost interest as the scene presented lost believably. While I easily suspended my disbelieving to watch the first two works, this one did not hold up as well. I did enjoy the mood it portrayed though, and I feel it was a worthwhile addition to the series. Personally, I would have preferred for the pieces to be arranged in a different order, with "Exiles of the Shattered Star" first, followed by "Orion Tide," with "Mariner 9" last. This would have placed the one that I considered the most technologically well made and the most captivating last, with the other two leading up to it, both in terms of interest in and story line.
All of that aside, I very much enjoyed the whole of the installation. The pieces were unique and well made, and the whole of the work was very enjoyable to experience.
This art exhibit was accompanied by a volume of "Abridged." Abridged is a Derry- based poetry publication, which features various poems, sometimes based on works of art. The volume Abridges 0 - 10: Haunted, was inspired by the works of Kelly Richardson. I enjoyed reading the contemporary poetry, especially in the context of the installation.
It was also very interesting to see this sort of collaboration, going across disciplines and countries. I would love to see more of this going on between artists and galleries in the future.
The Void gallery, though small, was really a lovely space, and I very much enjoyed what I saw there. The art was well chosen and well placed in the building, a very good experience over all.
After the tour of the Derry city walls and seeing the two Cathedrals, we met up with Paul, who gave us a tour of the Bogside and the murals there, which were painted in memory of the fights of the Troubles that happened here, as well as the Bloody Sunday Massacre.
This was a very dark time period for the inhabitants of the Bogside. As nationalist Irish Catholics, they were only allowed to live in small, overcrowded areas, and were denied jobs and political power. The tensions built up from this poor treatment resulted in riots as well as peaceful marches. On the 30th of January, 1972, British army members fired on protesters and killed 13 unarmed men. The army proceeded to say they had done nothing wrong, blaming the victims, and the whole event became a symbol of the injustice of the British and Irish conflict. More on that later though. First, a little more on the background, as seen through some of the murals.
This mural tells of the standing points of the Irish riots leading up to, and during, the Troubles. "One Man One Vote," alludes to the political power that was kept away from the majority of the people of Derry. Because of the way the electoral vote was set up, the Catholics, despite being a majority in number, could never have a majority vote when electing officials. This made them powerless to change their situation through the normal political system, and forced them to look to other means of being heard. "Jobs not creed" simply enough, speaks to the jobs being refused to Catholics because of their religion. At the time, most business owners were Protestant, and were regularly encouraged to hire only other Protestants. As suggested by the banners in the background, many of the protesters strongly associated with the civil rights marches lead by Martin Luther King Jr. in the US. Many took his model of peaceful protest, and chose to march in the streets to demand their rights, remaining non-violent. It was during one of these peaceful marches that the shooting of Bloody Sunday happened.
These two walls feature famous paintings. To the left is Pablo Picasso's "Guernica," and to the right (smaller, above the red car) is Francisco Goya's "The Third of May." These two murals would largely speak to the people of the Bogside. Firstly, many Irishmen went to Spain to help fight against Franco's troops, and the people of the Bogside would therefor have recognized the story behind these paintings. On a deeper level, however, these paintings speak of the atrocities of war and the repercussions or armed conflicts on innocents. As victims of the Troubles and the Bloody Sunday Massacre, the would have resonated with the people of the Bogside. These two works of art may have been painted on the subject of political strife in another country, but their message is universal. The violence seen by the people of Bogside is well described in these two paintings. Unlike the murals, these are far less hopeful, but seem truthful to the feeling of the times, while the people were suffering immensely at the hands of those around them.
And now on to Bloody Sunday. This event occurred on the 30th of January, 1972, when a peaceful protest by the Civil Rights Association of Derry were fired upon by members of the British Army. The march was peaceful, with the IRA guaranteeing that they would not be there. Protesters were speaking against internment (jailing without trial) in Northern Ireland, and were unarmed. At 4:07, however, a group of soldiers began to attempt to arrest the marchers, who fled. After they had begun to run away, the soldiers open fired, and over the course of half and hour, thirteen were killed and thirteen others wounded. To add insult to horrific injury, the policemen claimed that the marchers were carrying bombs and had attacked them, and they were not blamed by the government, but celebrated for what they had done. For many years, the families of those killed suffered brutality from unionist soldiers and police, who sincerely believed the 13 victims were gunmen and terrorists, and a campaign began for a second investigation. After years of attempting to get the government's attention, a second inquiry was finally filed, and this time the citizens of the Bogside were thoroughly interviewed and may witnesses were cross-referenced, and the victims were found to be completely innocent and unarmed. While the soldiers have not been prosecuted for their actions, the government's acknowledgement of the innocence of the people of Bogside has been seen as a first step in the peacemaking process. Many hope that the blame for Bloody Sunday will become more well known and that the soldiers will be sent to jail, but the future of this is still very much unknown.
Today was a day unlike any others. We went on two guided tours, and learned about the city of Derry, as well as the Bogside Neighborhood and Bloody Sunday, which were very dark topics. The city of Derry, officially named Londonderry, was a Royal Charter established by King James the First in 1613. This land had been acquired by Victoria I during the Nine Years War, and King James, after having taken over for her, began a process called a 'plantation,' where they attempted to displace all of the native Irish population and replace it with English and Scottish settlers. These settlers built the walled city and started the town of Londonderry, though the overall plantation process was fairly unsuccessful for the British. Many of the new settlers were given too big of parcels of land, which they could not handle, and were often forced to house and feed British soldiers with no compensation, draining their resources. The Irish population remained, though they were pushed to the least favorable part of the land, which became known as the Bogside. Over time, the city grew beyond the walls, with the tension between Irish and British growing until the time of the Troubles. More on that in another blog post though.
After having learned about the background of the walled city, our group split up to roam and see new parts of the city. For several of us, the first stop was St. Columbs Cathedral, an Anglican church built inside the city walls of Derry in 1633. The original wall plans accounted for this church being built, with higher walls placed along the side of the wall where it is located. The cathedral was built on the location of an earlier church, the church of Templmore. This older church was destroyed in 1568, during the Nine Years War, and its stones were used to build the walls around the city. After the walls had been built, William Parrot deigned the St. Colbum's Cathedral in the Planter's Gothic style, and it was built where the church of Templmore had once stood. In 1776, the bishop of Derry modified the cathedral, making the spire and tower taller. These 'improvements' began falling apart, however, and in 1802 they were taken down, and just the tower was rebuilt. The spire was added again in 1822. Several other small changes were made to the outside of the cathedral, and in 1861, the entire inside was remodeled, to be made of oak wood. It was somewhat damaged during the Troubles, though a thorough remodeling project in 2011 brought the cathedral back to its former state. It is indeed a very beautiful cathedral, with lots of detailed wooden carvings and a ribbed ceiling. I decided to sit down and draw the inside, and was rather pleased with the result.
After exiting St. Columb's Cathedral, Austin and I exited the walls of Derry and walked up a hill to St. Eugene's Cathedral, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Derry. The Irish Catholic people of Derry had several laws restricting their rights, prohibiting them from holding seats in Parliament and building Cathedrals. These were given back to the people with the Roman Catholic Relief Act of of 1829. The roman Catholics of Derry began looking to build their cathedral shortly after, and began raising funds for it in 1840. The building of the Cathedral began nine years later, and, in 1873, St. Eugene's Cathedral was opened. Stylistically, this cathedral represents the gothic revival, thereby fitting in with some of the much older architecture of the city. Lack of funds meant that there was no stained glass, bell tower, or spire. These were added over time, with stained glass installed in 1890 and a tower and spire built in 1903. The sheer size of this cathedral is very impressive, and the stained glass and arched architecture are lovely. The was the light from inside and outside came into the room helped emphasize the architecture, and the whole cathedral seemed to glow.
It was very interesting to see both of these cathedrals, of two competing faiths, which were both gorgeous, and, architecturally speaking, very similar. Seeing these two peaceful places associated with a city that has such a violent history was an interesting start to the day.
After having seen the sectarian neighborhoods of Belfast, our class and tour guides headed off to the Irish coastline, and what we saw is hard to adequately describe. I've never seen any landscape quite like the ones we saw today, and each were beautiful beyond compare.
To save you from having to read paragraphs of my floofy adjectives, I've decided to tell about this leg of the trip mainly in pictures. Hover over the images to read the captions...
Stop 1. The Dark Hedges
Originally planted to line the driveway to the mansion of the Stuart family in the 1800s. It is said to be haunted by a certain ghost named Lady Grey, though, as it was broad daylight, we were not able to confirm this myth. Today the Hedges have earned their claim to fame through their natural beauty, as well as the scenes featuring them in the Game Of Thrones TV show.
Stop 2. the Ballycastle coastline
A piece of the North Irish Coastline from where you can see Fair Head, Rathlin Island, and, if you look very closely, Scotland.
Stop 3. The Giant's Causeway
This piece of coastline is made of cliffs as well as unusual geological formations. Large hexagonal blocks of basalt rise out of the ground and for most of the beach, giving this landscape its unique appearance.
Stop 4. The Wee Cottage, a tiny cafe by the Dunluce Castle.
There, we got to enjoy delicious warm soup, followed by tea and the most amazing scones I've ever had. After enjoying lunch, we wandered around the castle ruins. One of our tour guides, Peter, told us about a cave that leads under the castle and to the ocean, and so we explored down that way. Sitting in the cave with only the sound of the waves was amazing- I felt like I could hear the ocean breathing.
The (now ruined) castle itself was built in the 13th century by the 2nd Earl of Ulster, Richard Og de Burgh. In 1513, it was bough over by the McQuillians, lords of the Route, who added on to the original medieval castle. Over the years, the castle passed from owner to owner, until, one day, a part of the cliff actually fell into the ocean, and the owners decided it was no longer a good idea to live there. The castle, deserted in 1690 fell to ruin over time.
Like the Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle is said to be haunted. Rather than a Grey Lady though, a woman in a white dress is said to haunt this part of the coastline, along with the spirits of the kitchen servants who fell to their death when that part of the castle collapsed. As much as I don't believe in ghosts, all of these stories are very fun. For the more in-depth versions of the ghosts stories from both he Dark Hedges and the Dunluce Castle, you can look at this website.
After that amazing day, we got back in the cabs and left for Derry, our final destination. On the way, Josh and I finalized two sketches of the Black Cab. The first, drawn by yours truly, it what I could see sitting in the back seat- including our guide Sam in the rear-view mirror. The second was a collaboration between Josh and I- I took care of the background framework, and he drew the people in. It's about what we imagine Sam could see in his rearview mirror- the back of the cab and three really happy people.
During the time of the Troubles, the city of Belfast was broken up into sectarian neighborhoods, according to religions and political party. The two sides were that of the Unionist Protestants, the majority who wished to remain part of the UK, and the Nationalist Catholics, who wanted to secede and join the Republic of Ireland. Because of the rising tension and violence between these two groups, the city became divided into neighborhoods that were one or the other, and today, many of these boundaries remain. Catholics and Protestants still do not live in the same neighborhoods, and those who know the city well can easily tell which type of people live in which neighborhoods. One peculiarity of these neighborhoods are the murals painted on the ends of peoples' houses, representing various scenes and peoples, usually from the troubles. Today, many of these have been painted over to be made more culturally appropriate and less violent or provocative, though a law has been passed stating that anyone painting over a mural must keep record of what was there before. The result is a mix of very politically opinionated, angry murals, and more peaceful, inspiring ones. Walking through the several neighborhoods, we certainly got a good view of both.
Today, our class traveled from Belfast to Derry (also known as Londonderry or Ledgen-derry, according to one of our tour guides), in three Black Cabs. Our three cab drivers/tour guides took us to see the different neighborhoods of Belfast, and explained many of the subtleties of the situation to us, before bringing us along the coast.
We started with the Shankill Road neighborhood, the most extreme and well-known Protestant Unionist area. In this part of Belfast, the citizens tried to make their affiliation with the UK very clear. There are many Union Jacks flying, and the curbstones are painted red white and blue. This is also the neighborhood with the highest density of murals. I felt strange taking pictures of peoples' houses, so I sketched them out instead. For some good photos, I would recommend checking out Josh, Jazmin, and Peter's blogs.
I gave some more background for each in the caption of the photo- hover over the image to read them.
After Shankill Road, we drove to the Peace Wall (also called the Peace Line), a giant wall separating the Unionist Shankill Road neighborhood from the Nationalist Falls Road neighborhood. The wall is 25 feet high and over 3 miles long. It has gates which are opened in the morning and closed at night, and copious amounts of street art. Signing this wall has become a cultural tradition, and famous figures including the Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton and Rhianna have all signed the wall. We got to join them, which was certainly an interesting experience.
Once again, i forgot to take pictures, though if you flip through the class blogs, you're sure to find some beautiful views of the wall.
The wall is a striking visual symbol, which sums up rather well the current state of separation. Our tour guide, Paddy had some interesting things to say on its subject. The first was that, while the wall was often compared to the Berlin Wall, the Peace Line was put up by both sides of the conflict to keep each other out, rather than by one group trying to keep people in against their will. He also mentioned that the government is planning to have the wall torn down by 2023, as well as his skepticism regarding the plan. Paddy explained that, while the wall is no longer necessary to stop violence, people still don't trust each other, and are not likely to want to remove the wall. It makes them feel safe, whether or not armed conflicts are happening. While I'm not sure whether this will indeed stop the government from tearing down the wall, it certainly offered some interesting insight on how the people of Ireland viewed the wall. Walking along it was very surreal to me- this beautifully decorated wall, cutting through a city, and upheld by the people living by it. I can't say I've ever seen such a concrete (no pun intended) embodiment of the idea of willful segregation. To an outsider, this sort of lifestyle seems so extreme that it's hard to imagine people would want to uphold it. We are so used to hearing about the Troubles as something of the past that we forget that for some people, the hate and mistrust is a thing of the present. This view of Belfast reminded me of this fact, something I am not likely to forget.
After passing through one of the gates in the wall, we got to see the Catholic side of town. Murals were slightly less prevalent (though we did catch a glimpse of a few). We stopped at a memorial garden, which was backed up against the opposite side of the Peace Wall. This garden commemorated the many lives lost, both of fighters and civilians, during the Troubles, and was a very touching place. Once again, I was faced with how current this history is to the people who lived it. After taking our time at the Memorial Gardens, we got back into the Black Cabs and headed off towards the Irish Coastline...
The 180 degree switch from the dark realities of the Troubles to the beauty of the coast once again highlighted the fact that Ireland is a place of remarkable contradictions, home to both the very sad and the very beautiful.
The Europa Hotel, which advertises itself as "The World Famous Europa Hotel," but is often called "Europe's Most bombed hotel" is a four-start hotel on Great Victoria Street in Belfast. It is a grand looking hotel, built in 1971. During the Troubles, it housed many journalists, and was damaged by bombs and estimated 28 times. In 1993, it was so badly destroyed that it sold to the Hastings Hotel Group for only 4.4 million pounds and took 8 million pounds to restore over the course of a year. Many famous people have stayed at this hotel, including the Clintons and Julia Roberts.
As well as hotel services, the Europa also serves high tea, which we were lucky enough to participate in. This 'meal' involves loose-leaf tea, finger sandwiches, pastries, and scones. The selection of teas was amazing, with an incredible amount of variety. All of the drinks and food was indescribably delicious, and we certainly enjoyed it to its full extent. Josh and Austin both wrote on the history of this kind of tea a bit more in depth, and I recommend checking out their blogs. It was very interesting to enjoy such an fancy, opulent type of meal in a hotel that had been the site of such strife just a few decades ago. The contrast was very striking, and made me think about the theme of duality we have been talking about. This country has a history with its fair share of strife and terror, mixed with a culture that we as Americans associate with the epitome of civilization. It's certainly an unusual mix.
After having rigorously photographed our lovely glass teapots, I decided to try my hand at painting them. It was certainly a fun exercise, though I think I'm going to need more practice before I master the art of painting reflections.
Anyhow, here's the result of about 2 hours in photoshop, on a wacom bamboo tablet my mother was kind enough to lend me for the trip. More to come, hopefully.
Today, after breakfast and some reflecting on our blogs, the class left for the Ulster Museum, which is just a few steps from where we are staying, snugly located in the Belfast Botanic Gardens. I am sorry to say that I was so excited that I forgot to take pictures, though you can seem some varying views of the outside of the museum can be seen here.
Among so many other things, I have learned that my undying love for museums certainly extends to Ireland, and the Ulster Museum is one more museum to have captured my affection.
The museum houses all sorts of collections, ranging from art to human history to the natural sciences, and is one the most diverse museums I have ever been to.
The first exhibits our class stopped by were on the Troubles, a time of extreme political unrest of in Northern Ireland. The museum had an exhibit dedicated to the various aspects of this time period, including some very poignant photos.
The actions during this time period were a series of cause and effect, and so I feel that they may be best explained by a timeline, to clearly show what happened.
But first, a bit of background. In the 20th century, Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, was a nation with a majority of Protestants (65%) and a Catholic minority (35%), a result of an already long and troubled history between Ireland and Britain. The twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland has already been granted independence. Catholics in Northern Ireland aspired to gain independence from the UK as well, while Protestants wanted to remain withing the UK. Each side formed its own political party and subsequent paramilitary groups, including (among many others) the Catholic IRA (the Irish Republican Army) and the Protestant UVF (Ulster Voluntary Force). Tensions between the two parties rose and rose, until the 'meltdown' of the Troubles.
The Troubles is a broad name for this time, during which violence lead to the death of approximately 3,600 people, and the injury of thousands. It is one of the less talked about conflicts of the 20th century, possibly because much prejudice and debate about the subject still exist.
The following timeline is largely taken from the Ulster Museum's exhibit, with some of my own additions.
Once again, this is an incredibly brief overview of this incredibly complex time in history. Thousands of people experienced this conflict in all aspects of their lives. This timeline does not do them justice, but it does set the stage for a better understanding of the Troubles. For more in depth information, the BBC and CAIN Webservice both offer wonderful articles about the many sides of modern North Irish history.
After learning more about the troubles, the class went to the "Art of the Troubles" exhibit, which was a collection of work by modern Irish artists examining the troubles. Some themes explored were the prevalence and physicality of violence, symbols of political parties such as flags, abandonment and destruction of surroundings, and suffering and loss.
These works really struck me. They were so much more personal than the numbers and treaty names we'd seen while researching the Troubles. Suddenly, we were faced with the very real, very human emotions of the Troubles. As distressing as this was, I learned a lot from viewing this conflict through the eyes of artists.
Many of these works really struck me, but the one that stayed with the the most was an installation by Willie Doherty called "Buried." This was an HD projection of a film of a forest in a perfectly dark room. The room itself was such a contrast from the bright museum halls that the room seemed to stretch of forever, and stepping into it, my first feeling was extreme fear. I can't quite explain why this feeling was so strong, but something about the vivid, dark forest surrounded by intense darkness scared me so much that it took me two tries to fully walk into the installation. Once I'd worked up the courage to go sit in the middle of the room, I was able to really experience the film. Here are some stills from it:
The artist used a short depth of field combined with the high definition detail of foreground objects to create a sensation of depth. This was compounded with a chiaroscuro-like treatment of light, resulting in very dark shadows and very bright highlights. This gives the scenes an unsettling feel, as the high definitely make them incredibly detailed and real, while the ghostly lighting and disappearing background make them seem unreal and alien. This combination of real and unreal, along with the sounds of the forest that seemed to come from all around made for a very unusual experience. I feel that this summarized the tension of the times very well. Places and scenery that may have been normal and everyday were transformed into alien landscapes and battlefields through the lens of the conflicts. Things may have appeared normal, but the violence so permeated every aspect of life that constant tension became the norm. This feeling is something universal, that most survivors of violent times have felt at some point in their life, and reminded me of stories of WW2 that I have heard form my family, as well as other war stories of various conflicts that I have read or been told about. This sense of constant unease, of never having a moment to feel truly safe really struck me. Doherty's work is hard to explain, but taught me a lot about the overall atmosphere of the conflicts in Northern Ireland. The way an artist as able to take simple forest scenes and create an experience both terrifying and beautiful, unsettling and peaceful through his treatment of lighting, depth, and composition was certainly a lesson in using your resources effectively to tell a message.
I found a short clip of Doherty talking about a variety of his works, which helps explain his creative process, from when he showed his work at The Fruitmarket Gallery. I've included it below to try to give a better feel of what the installation was like.
After gaining some valuable insight on the Troubles and having a delicious lunch (see this blog post), Austin and I returned to the museum to look at the nature collection. We greatly enjoyed the wide variety of skeletons and stuffed animals they displayed, and had in-depth conversations on the bone structure of elephants, the skeletons of birds, and several other things. I also took this opportunity to draw some of my favorite subjects: birds and skulls.
As I stated before, I really fell in love with this museum. I could easily spend several more weeks (and dozens of blog posts and hundreds of pages of sketchbooks) looking and learning about the extensive variety of subjects the museum has to show. As with most things, I had to work within a time limit, but the experience was no less pleasant.