13 December 2016

Mapping Alternative Ulster in Armagh

Mapping Alternative Ulster is on again, this time in the Market Place gallery in Armagh. It runs until 7 January 2017.

The exhibition showcases a dozen map-makers, each taking a very different look at the places we think we know so well. These map-makers are local historians, activists, artists, geographers and urban planners, all interpreting our surroundings in different ways. Together, they cover the ground from Donegal to Down to Armagh. Mapping Alternative Ulster re-thinks our representation on maps.

11 December 2016

Belfast versus Copenhagen

These Google maps enable us to compare the provision of cycling lanes in Belfast and Copenhagen. Belfast is a small city, and relatively flat, it could be perfect for cycling but its single strength is the continuous route along the Lagan. Note the rather ridiculous short stretches of cycle lane in Belfast, picking up and then vanishing again a few pedal strokes later.

Thanks to @jrolloos21 for putting the maps together
It may seem unfair to use Copenhagen for this comparison, as the city is famously cycle-friendly. However the comparison is useful as in the 70s and 80s Copenhagen was struggling with similar issues to those Belfast still has; the dominance of the motor car for example. Copenhagen took definite steps to change the commuting culture in on its streets, and rebalance the city in the way shown by the map. They introduced an ambitious Cycle Policy in 2002, among its aims were to increase the proportion of Copenhagen cyclists who say they feel safe cycling in the city from 57% to 80%. They also aimed to increase the proportion of people cycling to work from 34% to 40% by 2012. They did not quite achieve this, but by 2014 they had exceeded it. Copenhagen now has 454 kilometres of cycle lanes, used by 36,000 cyclists every day.

I got the statistics from here and here.

30 November 2016

Hanging Mapping Alternative Ulster

Thank you to everyone in the Market Place gallery, Armagh, for making the show look so great. It will open tomorrow and run for five weeks.

4 October 2016

Comments Please

In the Belfast run of Mapping Alternative Ulster one visitor used the comments book to chart their own tour of the show

Running an exhibition has made me realise the importance of a comments book. I leave an unlined notebook with every run of Mapping Alternative Ulster. I leave it by the exit along with a request that visitors use it to write down their reactions to the works. I have found lots of engagement with the show expressed in the notebooks and, taken together, they indicate that Mapping Alternative Ulster is striking a cord. One visitor commented during the Belfast run of the show: “This exhibition is both fascinating and inspiring – in everyday life we can see maps as quite banal things but the feelings and sentiments that locations can evoke in is very clearly displayed here. Many thanks for helping me look at the map of Ulster in a new way.”

21 September 2016

The Rule of the Land

So, The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland's Border will be published by Faber & Faber at the beginning of Feburary 2017. It is in part the story of Ireland’s border and a portrait of its landscape and people. It is also about reading the power dynamics in a landscape. Almost any landscape has these, but Ireland's border is particularly loaded with claims and counterclaims.

First this three-hundred-mile line demarcated counties, then countries and will next be the frontier of the European Union. It was striking how little Ireland was discussed in the lead-up to the UK referendum on EU membership. You might have thought the border between the UK and the EU was going to be the English Channel. But it won’t be, it’s here, and it’s as thin as wire.

The Rule of the Land explores the borderland during a fragile moment, before an uncertain future.

27 August 2016

Capturing a Powerbase

I am organising the photographs for my forthcoming book, including this one of Grianán of Aileach, near the border in Co. Donegal. It is probably just as well the photos will be rendered in black and white, as some might not believe the blue of the sky. But it was that blue, I swear.

There are about thirty photographs going into the book. Most of them are of examples of the architecture of power I visited along the border. Grianán of Aileach is probably the most visited of all of them, in fact I had to photoshop a tourist's head out of this photograph.

20 July 2016

Another New Icon

Many border bridges were blown up or dismantled during the Troubles. They are now being reconnected, but during my border surveys I found a few remnants. This icon is for my next map and is an attempt to capture the essence of these breaks.

9 June 2016

Hand-drawn Icons

Hopefully they'll like these more ...

These icons are from about thirty icons for the map that will illustrate my forthcoming book. I have been staring at this map for a long time now, moving things about, redrawing lines. I will need glasses by the time I'm done.

28 May 2016

Back to the drawing board

Faber & Faber (both of them) don't like the icons I've used on my latest border map. It is the map that will illustrate The Rule of the Land, my book about the border that they are publishing next year.

Too boxy perhaps, too blocky. I am just going to do what I'm told, so it's back to the drawing board.

10 March 2016

Of Walking in Ice

Herzog on location with Fitzcarraldo, released in 1982.

In 1974 the German filmmaker Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Grizzly Man), heard a friend in Paris was ill. Herzog had a plan to save her from death.

I took a jacket, a compass and a duffel bag with the necessities. My boots were so solid and new that I had confidence in them. I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot. Besides, I wanted to be alone with myself. (foreword)

Herzog walked from Munich to Paris. The book Of Walking in Ice is the record of the journey. It is a route map in words. A scrapbook of images, signs, and encounters. One aspect of Herzog’s journey, that makes me feel a bit of a softy, is that he sets off in bleak mid-winter. Most of my Border walking is done in good weather. Looking at my bookshelves I find I am not alone in minding the weather. Iain Sinclair’s walks, such as those recorded in Edge of the Orison, are planned, short, and warm. Colm Tóibín, Walking along the Border, encountered some drizzle but never really suffered. He was never far from a B&B and a fry. In contrast, Herzog’s need to walk was so intense that he set off just when travelling was hardest. Even if this was just a stylistic choice, and I think it is not, then it would be a compelling and original one.

There is more. Herzog’s journey is continuous. No weekend hikes strung together artificially on the page. He walks three solid weeks on a low budget. At night he breaks into holiday chalets for a dry place to sleep. With aching feet, dirty hair, and soaking clothes Herzog starts to look, feel, and perhaps genuinely be, deranged.

Then snow, snow, rainy snow, snowy rain; I curse Creation. What for? I am so utterly soaked that I avoid people by crossing the sodden meadows, in order to save myself from facing them. Confronting the villages I stand ashamed. Confronting the children I change my face to look like one of the community. (36)

In one of his essays, Paul Auster remarks that to be truly engaged with a novel we have to feel the author was compelled to write it. The writer had no choice other than to write it. So it is with Herzog’s walk. He cannot wait until spring. He cannot plan a route. He does not even have a map when he leaves. He is gripped by compulsion. A compulsion powerful enough to reach from the page and grip the reader too.

Border apple tree on The Map of Encounters 1.0.

By the last week Herzog’s loneliness aches harder than his feet. Of Walking in Ice’s theme of loneliness is a direct result of travelling in winter. Nature will keep you very good company in the summer, but in winter it shrugs you off. A few years ago I wrote a short piece about finding an apple tree on the Border, green and fully loaded with fruit. It was an inviting, generous sight. Herzog’s meeting with an apple tree is very different. It says something of the difficulties that he faced and that I avoided. But I am not congratulating myself. I envy the stridency of Herzog’s journey.

Apples lie rotting in the wet clay soil around the trees, nobody is harvesting them. On one of the trees, which seemed from afar like the only tree left with any leaves, apples in mysterious cluster hang close to one another. There isn’t a single leaf on the wet tree, just wet apples refusing to fall. I picked one, it tasted pretty sour, but the juice in it quenched my thirst. I threw the apple core against the tree, and the apples fell like rain. When the apples had becalmed again, restful on the ground, I thought to myself that no one could imagine such human loneliness. (72)

12 February 2016

Map of Teelin

I first saw Dan McGinley's map of Teelin, Co. Donegal, pinned to the wall of the community centre in a small village called Kilcar. I was struck by the amount of detail and the sheer size of the map, it is about 150 centimetres tall, and was immediately determined that more people should see it. It was one of the maps that compelled me to organise Mapping Alternative Ulster.

Dan McGinley charted the local place names of several rural locations in Donegal, starting with places he knew from his own childhood. “As a child I found the place names fascinating,” he told me in an email, “they had the quality of incantations.” I am delighted that two of his maps are in the show.