|Quay near the docks. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
|Intermittent sun in Belfast. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
|Richard Gorman, "Kin." The MAC, Belfast. Image from: https://themaclive.com/shows/KIN|
The second is that of Graham Gingles, titled "At Times like These Men were Wishing Themselves All Kinds of Insects."
|"At Times like these..." MAC, Belfast. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
A critical engagement with the legacy of WWI, the installation work seeks to offer a new kind of visual (and sensorial field) to engage with dominant public memory and visual culture surrounding WWI. In contrast to the spectacular images of men at the front, the installation uses architectural references to ruins of Cloth Hall at Ypres to encounter trace objects that are linked to the war. In a darkly lit room the visitor encounters a ghostly white structure that offers a series of doors, curved (and broken) archways, and small ladders and winding miniature stairs.
|Ruins of the Cloth Hall (Lakenhalle) and St Martin's Cathedral in Ypres, 23 January 1916. © IWM|
The insects draw reference to the raison d'être for the exhibit title, drawn from Robert McGookin's war diaries, where he recounts that being at the front men "were wishing themselves all kinds of insects."
I then wandered to Sunflower public house, and listened to an hour of a Sunday night session, where musicians, largely in their twenties, many with dreds, slowly gathered in a corner of a pub and played brought instruments while chatting and drinking. The session, a cultural institution in Ireland, is a space for conviviality but also public memory and oral culture, a key transmission site for folk lore, musical repertoires, and cultivating a sense of the local.
Folk music in Ireland, as in many other places, is not pure entertainment. It is a kind of acoustical public art that constitutes a sense of collective memory, identity, and works through the ordinary difficulties of living. At Belfast's Black Box art center, I was able to see this role enacted in a wonderful way by George Murphy and his band. The show took place in the Green Room, a cozy music venue with mismatched chairs and tables, leather couches and open sided leather booths, and a bar boasting pizza and an array of ales and cider.
|The Green Room. Black Box, Belfast. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
Upon entering the room one is confronted with a little free library. The building, warehouse shaped, has large beautiful gothic style windows that enable one to look out onto the street behind the stage. Black Box has existed in its current form for eight years, the barman informed me.
|The black Box. 18 Hill Street, Belfast. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
It also marks an interesting point of commonality and difference with the kind of folk revival that also took place in the U.S. in the 1960s, largely mobilized by Bob Dylan. As an American, George's profile with guitar and harmonica in the dim bar had immediate resonance for me. I told him of this connection and he said that indeed, Dylan has played a role in Ireland, but also Ireland played a role for Dylan, who found the Clancy Brothers to be major influences. "Though the Clancy Brothers...left Ireland" to become famous and then come back. "We try to be relevant," George remarked, after I told him about how his songs seemed to resonate about the fate that confronts former working class cities like Belfast. It also offers a reminder of the multiple meanings that the aesthetic takes in public art. While my own work focuses largely on the visual, it also seeks to understand how the visual is part of a more complex scene that is also tactile and auditory.* Behind and around the murals that decorate modern day Belfast is the aural texture of language, conversation, idioms, and musical expression.
The group has a series of shows coming up, so those in the UK should try to find them out. They offer a beautiful acoustical tapestry that commemorates but also marks evolution in modern day Ireland.
|A final song. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce|
* Emily Winderman reminds me that Teresa Brennan meditates on this question when thinking about the affective and the olfactory