It’s possible I’ve posted this picture here before, because it’s one of my absolute favorites from the trip. Hiking up to the Mourne Wall this day last year was a good reminder that wall-building is a very old practice, undertaken for any number of reasons, almost an instinctive, territorial urge. Because of this, it is at once completely understandable and extremely strange that we are using this old technique for 21st century conflicts.
One of the main reasons that I am obsessed with political partition is because it is incredibly visual. Walls are extremely simple, easy to communicate, and read well as images. One of the challenges of Walking Walls was trying to make barriers look interesting and different after photographing them for 3 months straight. I remember thinking that I was grasping for ideas when I lay down in the wet grass to take this picture in Portadown one year ago today.
This time last year, I was back in Dublin after a week of roughing it in rural Ireland. The amenities of the city were a welcome change, and the weather was finally cooperating. I was set to go back to Belfast the next morning for one more week of Walking Walls. At this point, the project was winding down and I was spending lots of time editing and writing and thinking, and less time pounding pavement and meeting people. I still had a substantial punch list for the last week in the North, but by now, my travels felt like they had more to do with killing time and pinching pennies than the intense pace I set at the beginning.
No, this fire is not from the streets of Belfast, but instead a mysterious scene from the window of a small trailer in rural Ireland. I glimpsed the eager flame when I looked up from our non-functional sink, through the thin, plastic window and across darkened farm fields and low hedges. I called for my girlfriend to look and she slipped her arm around my waist for warmth as much as comfort and agreed that we could not know what caused the fire to burn.
At this time last year, I was 7/8 done with Walking Walls, a little burned out, and in dire need of giving my bank account a rest. My girlfriend had a week of vacation for Easter and so it was quite apparent that the solution to all of these needs and wants was to spend a week together doing a work trade on a farm. So she flew out to Dublin where we met up before catching a train south to beautiful, rolling countryside. We were picked up in a rickety van by an excitable guy with dreadlocks named Phil, one of the homesteaders who drove us the last leg of the journey to his farm.
And so we found ourselves in an uninsulated trailer home with no heat or running water, while the Irish gods of weather seemed unaware that it was supposed to be springtime. Perhaps this explains our magnetic attraction to the distant fire across the fields.
For the next week, my Walking Walls posts will be less frequent, as I wasn’t producing much content for the first week of April. 90 days on the road, it turns out, is quite a long time.
It’s amazing how the order imposed by walls leads to greater chaos in their midst; this seems like a paradox until you understand that walls do not impose order to begin with, they fundamentally disrupt the fabric of society around it.
The urban decay that surrounded the Belfast Peace Walls was the most visual and obvious instance of this phenomenon I have ever seen.
Territory marking tactics like these scuffed up Loyalist blocks always struck me as the nationalist version of “Jack was here.” They have less to do with conveying information than self affirmation; nobody (except me) wanders around the neighborhoods of Belfast without knowing exactly where they do and do not belong, it’s just part of living and growing up in the city.
To me, “Jack was here” was genuinely informative, adding a layer of information and understanding to how I read the city. But the painted curbs, street signs and blocks like these are rarely seen by outsiders, considering the degree of segregation that dominates movement in the city. Few outsiders make it far enough to be intimidated or informed by the painted concrete. Instead, they function most frequently as mirrors for the painters and their community, forming comfortable little borders for daily commutes or walks with their dog. It seems like the graffiti artists are actually painting themselves into a corner, limiting the space comfortably available to them through this fairly innocuous, yet persistent visual motif that anchors their experience of the city.