The word ‘peace’ is one half of a dichotomy that is preventing real engagement from the outside in Israel/Palestine, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland. It’s too easy for Americans to assume that since there is no intifada, there is peace; since the UN peacekeepers are present, there is peace; since the Troubles were resolved, there must be peace.
And technically speaking, you can have ‘peace’ as we understand it (a cease-fire, an agreement on a piece of paper) without having resolution, community, justice, reconciliation, education, freedom of movement, freedom from the threat of violence. Declaring peace without the aforementioned is an excuse to get out before the really tricky work begins.
The sculpture pictured above sits squarely in the middle of an interface zone in West Belfast. Some might say it stands as a bold counterpoint to its surroundings. I see it as a empty plea to gloss over the contradictions in its midst, which speak so much louder.
This might sound a little crazy, but I swear it’s true.
It was a hot day in Prague, the last stop on the Carleton CAMS 10-week New Media roadtrip. Professore Schott emailed us before class and told us to bring water and a sunhat, in anticipation of some unknown outdoor activity. I spent the afternoon collecting broken glass from underpasses, parks, and the riverside.
Let me explain.
In class that morning, we watched a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy, an amazing artist who produces site-specific sculptures. Our assignment for the afternoon was to “reconfigure Prague” a la Goldsworthy, and photograph the finished product. It was a competition.
Our class splintered off, each determined to capture the essence of Prague in the next two hours. I immediately took off to all the sketchy places I could think of, searching for broken beer bottles. I don’t remember much about that search, except finding some dead fish by the river. I hate dead fish.
I chose a busy bridge in Old Town to assemble and photograph my sculpture. I wanted to confront the public with the garbage I’d dragged out of corners of their city. As you can see from this photo, I got the confused looks and sidelong glances I’d been hoping for.
The next day in class, John flipped through our photos on the projector, but they were kept anonymous because of the competition. My classmates had made elaborate sculptures of cigarettes, flowers, even a video of a shadow eating lunch, but I liked my chances.
Our judge was a dashing art professor named Otto who led a weekend trip to Moravia for our class.
The judging finally took place on Sunday afternoon. We were on our way back to Prague and had stopped for a lazy picnic by a scenic lake. A few of us were wading in the shallow water, half-liter bottles of beer in our hands when Otto casually called for us to hear the results of our competition. He leaned easily against a tree, polarized sunglasses and a black-collared shirt completed his bad-ass mystique. Otto announced the runners-up. I tried to keep it cool but I was nervous. Then he was saying, “and ze vinner, ze one vith ze glass and bottle. It vas very nice.” I stepped out of the lake to claim my prize.
So there you have it. The winner of the 2009 Carleton CAMS Roadtrip Andy Goldsworthy Prague Reconfiguration Photography Competition. I’m still not sure how to fit that into my resume.