31 December 2013

War on Wind Farms

The writer and occasional mapmaker Denis Wood might be the one who put it best. He said; "The truth is, maps are weapons." Here's an example. The Belfast Telegraph recently used cartography to make an attack on wind power projects in Northern Ireland. This is the map they published under the heading; "Wind farms: Map reveals how they've swarmed across Northern Ireland in 13 years".

The report discusses wind power projects using the language of disease and invasion, seeking a quick emotional response from the reader; "relentless spread," "blight." It highlights one politician's shrill description of wind farms as "environmental rape." No counter augment is admitted.

The biggest impact is made by the map. Indeed, the story is built on the map. The first impression (and, sadly, the first impression is all many readers will be left with) is indeed of a swarm. There are hundreds of wind farms! There seem to be so many wind farms that at least one must be visible from anywhere. So many wind farms that you'd be able to see dozens of them from any elevated site. They seem to be more wind farms than villages and towns, more wind farms than there are hills to put them on.

 Hang on ...

Those aren't wind farms.

This map actually charts domestic wind turbines, single rotors that are bolted to people's garages or stand in their gardens. I am temped to say that the map is lying but it isn't really, but the information has been misrepresented in order to mislead. You can find the original map on the Department of Environment website. Compare the two and you can see how important contextual information has be erased on the newspaper's version. The biggest absence being the title; "Planning Applications for Single Wind Turbines, April 2002 - October 2013."

This example can be taken as a warning about the power of maps. Stop, read and think about the article and most of us could work out that we were being fooled. But, by translating its bias into a visual image this article has found a way to draw quick, unconsidered agreement. We take in the message in an instant, are disgusted with wind farms, then turn the page. A map can communicate in a powerful and immediate way that is open to abuse. It has been abused here.

Also on the Department of Environment website is the actual wind farm map. This map includes applications that were refused, withdrawn or for which a decision is still pending.

Not so much a swarm really, you could call it a sprinkle.

30 November 2013

Mapping Alternative Ulster

Writing this blog has made me into a keen observer of mapping projects in Ulster. I seek them out whether they are produced by individual artists or groups. I am interested regardless of whatever the map's mission happens to be (a map always has a mission). There is a lot of fascinating work being done by map-makers here. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is important, some of it is both.

Exhibition website

Inside the Ulster Museum

I am please to announce that the Ulster Museum, Belfast, has entrusted me with an exhibition space for next summer. The show I am curating will be called Mapping Alternative Ulster. This show will bring together the work of geographers, mapmakers and urban planners, all of whom interpret the land in different ways. Mapping Alternative Ulster will re-think our surroundings and its representation on maps. Some of the maps going into the show have already featured in this blog, John Carson's Friend Map for example. Others have not.

Watch this space for more information has the exhibition approaches.

Right now I am seeking funding for aspects of the show. Thank you to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland who have already given me assistance.

The exhibition website is www.mappingalternativeulster.net

27 October 2013

Map of Hannahstown

Black Mountain overlooks many parts of Belfast. And from many parts of Belfast you can see a dip in the western end of Black Mountain. This ruffled edge is the location of a quarry. Down the slope from there, out of sight, is Hannahstown. I read that the village began in the early 19th century when a landowner called John Hamill gave an acre over for use a cemetery. His wife's name was Hannah. Their own daughter would sadly become one of the first to be buried in the new graveyard. Her name was Hannah too.

The cemetery was soon joined by a school, then a chapel, then a village.

The Hannahstown Heritage and Cultural Society is a newly formed group who, with funding from Belfast City Council, decided to make an historical map of the area. The result is beautiful hand drawn piece of cartography.


Detail 1

Detail 2

The map has an twisting perspective, wrapping Hannahstown around the map reader. This is just a good a way to represent a landscape as any other. Wherever you look you can see a horizon, just like reality. This map also looks back in time. Members of the society pooled their knowledge and packed the map with local history. It is full of information; folk history, old place-names, snippets of material culture, flora and fauna. Eamonn Mc Croy is the illustrator. He says the map "contains only a subset of the many topic discussed during a lively series of very enjoyable evenings."

Detail 3

Detail 4

The map is displayed in Hannahstown Community Centre and there are plans to do a print run of it. I am also hoping to include A Map of Hannahstown in the Mapping Alternative Ulster exhibition in the Ulster Museum next year. More on that soon.

30 September 2013

Blobs in Antrim

I had this map pressed into my hand outside a design fair in London lately. It's a flier for a craft magazine called Hole and Corner. I like the colour scheme, the few dashes of orange set it off well. On the map Britain and Ireland are marked up with images of cultural produce, sports and famous art from various regions.

The top half of Ireland is filled mainly with two GAA players. That makes sense, but what are those mysterious blobs occupying Country Antrim? Painters' pallets? Alien invaders? This is a serious question, any ideas?

30 August 2013

The Detail on Schools

The Detail is a news website for Northern Ireland. Its staff do not just write traditional journalism. They also run a kind of story that may well become more common as we entre the era of 'big data'. They make news by analysing and collating statistical information. Recently The Detail has looked at rates of repossession, studied cancer prevalence by postcode and compared emergency service response times across Northern Ireland. Often The Detail displays its findings using online maps. This is the case with the report, "How our school leavers fare - by school and by postcode". Below I have posted the two screenshots that cover Limavady.

On this map every secondary school in Northern Ireland is described by a selection of stats. These include the percentage of students who are entitled to school meals (a rough indicator of economic well-being) and the percentage who go onto further education.

We have come to expect a religious divide in Northern Ireland's education system. Towns often have a Catholic School and a Protestant one. Sure enough, many of Northern Ireland's small-to-medium sized towns have two secondary schools. However, zoom it and a different divide is revealed. Class or relative wealth seems just as important a story. Schools with high rates of free school meals send low numbers of students to university. Use their map to roam town to town and this correlation holds true, regardless of the school's place on the religious spectrum.

31 July 2013

Derry's Gardens

Derry/Londonderry is UK city of culture this year. Specially created artist's gardens are open to the public now around the city. Artists Locky Morris, Katie Holten, Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey have planted the gardens in houses, city yards and on rooftops. There are ten in all. One is mapped in this charming illustration.

From UK City of Culture website:
The rationale of the project is to create a city centre 'garden trail’ that changes along with the people and the town they are situated in. This is particularly important in a city centre context which generally emphasises consumerism, the manufactured and which affords little time for reflection, conversation and growth.

28 June 2013

Fictional Ulster: In Development

I'm almost done with Version One of Fictional Ulster, a map of places created by writers. Thank you to Patricia Craig who told me about a few locations I might not have discovered otherwise. Patricia, who edited The Ulster Anthology, probably knows more about Ulster literature than anyone else alive. She has read all the bad and forgotten stuff as well, which is useful as fame or literary quality play no part in getting on the Fictional Ulster map.

A preview, from Mid-Ulster

24 May 2013

Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography

I am delighted that The Map of Connections has been included in Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography by Colin Graham. This is a substantial and authoritative publication which, interestingly, looks at both gallery photography and journalistic work from Belfast archives.

There will be a public lecture by publication's author on 7 June from 12noon to 1pm in the MAC, Belfast. Many photographs featured in the book are currently on show there.

The book was published this month.

I like Graham's reading of The Map of Connections. He wonders if the border's connection points might be its "truest existence". That a place might be best seen through its contradictions was something I often considered when developing the map.

See The Map of Connections here. This page also features other maps I have created.

20 April 2013

The Model City

Forum for Alternative Belfast is a community interest company that campaigns for a better connected built environment in Belfast. On the 2nd of May an exhibition showcasing their work opens in The Golden Thread Gallery. The show features a three dimensional model of Belfast's centre.

Making the model city.
Four coats of acrylic were required, then a high-viscosity top-coat.

In the model, vacant sites will be highlighted in and proposals made for how these sits could be converted and made to live again. Painting the mini buildings was a time consuming job. Forum for Alternative Belfast asked for volunteers to help them with it. I assisted one day and it was fascinating to see the model in development.

The exhibition will run until June 8th. It will be accompanied by a public talks. Go to The Golden Thread Gallery's website for details.

31 March 2013

To the Waters and the Wild

CROW (City Right of Way) is a collaboration between artists Mike Hogg and Aisling O'Beirn. They organise monthly walks, usually in areas of Belfast. The walks are free and open to anyone. Participants often suggest the routes or they are developed in collaboration with other organisations. This month I joined one of their walks, heading away from Strandmillis along the Lagan's towpath. About 20 people formed our party, a good percentage of them being children. They youngsters enjoyed the snow and, luckily, none of them fell in the river. We went as far as a wooden area in Belvoir Park, the oaks there are said to be the oldest in Belfast.

The route

Waiting for the kids to catch up

Among the oaks, Justin Nicholl (of Grow, a North Belfast community garden cooperative) identified an abundance of wild garlic. I brought some home and added it to my dinner.

Links: CROW (City Right of Way) and Grow Community Garden.

30 January 2013

Ulster's Diamonds

I grew up near Donegal Town. Locals always called the open area in the middle of the town The Diamond. It was mainly used for car parking and was more of a triangle than a diamond. Streets ran from three corners

A map of Donegal Town from 1901.

 Coleraine, 1611.

Lately I've learned that there are many other town diamonds in Ulster. The centre of Ulster's plantation towns were usually given that name. The outer limits of Coleraine might vaguely suggest a diamond but its central zone, the part that is actually called The Diamond, is a rectangle. This map from 1611 shows it well. Why did the term diamond come into use?

Postcard of Coleraine.

Diamonds were the town's market areas and markets were central to the Plantation project. It was believed that control, regulation and commerce would help build a new society. I wonder if the hard, angular associations of the word diamond appealed, in some fundamental way, to the designers of the plantation? Still now, I feel, the word diamond suggests a nexus, lines and angles meeting in one unbreakable centre. Such a solid word was bound to appeal to those wishing to anchor themselves into the ground.