Here are some initial notes - not comprehensive I'm afraid, just some thoughts...
I have briefly responded
The proposal for me to go to Belfast was one that arose only a few days before the trip, which allowed me to formulate a position in relation to it on the fly. The trip had a number of different priorities and functions varying for the different participants. The trip was to develop projects for Sam Rana and (as it turned out) me with Jude for future enactment; the trip was to generate a response to the Loyalist bonfire towers that were coming to completion when we were there, and this meant an address of some sort to the context that produced them; the trip was an opportunity to meet some of the art world protagonists of Belfast, the meaning of which was different for each of us; the trip was to generate art; the trip was an open ended opportunity for new possibilities to arise from it’s contingencies.
In the run up to the departure date, I was thinking of the research trip only in technical terms. I had hoped to have a larger group together, but short notice and that everyone had to self-fund, limited who could come. It had not occurred to me that Alasdair would be a perfect candidate for the trip until I saw the creation of the new body of work that he started while using the studios here. From asking Alasdair if he would be interested, till arriving at Belfast airport was a mere four days.
Our trip coincided with is the start of Loyalist celebrations, of marches and bonfires that are a continued source of political tension and violent dispute. This was at one and the same time the reason for our presence, and an obvious source of anxiety - the reality of the political complexity of engaging with this place and time as an artist was evident from the start: A proposed response to the bonfire structures was to deal with them as vernacular architecture, as structures to be dealt with technically, or aesthetically, and whilst this is interesting it might reasonably be understood a sublimation of the difficult question of how to relate to the politics at hand.
At first I had been untroubled by the idea of using the bonfires as the grounding focus of a group. This research would be a common point of exchange to begin on from which we would then branch out into varying interests. But simply trying to neutralize the context that we had put ourselves into would be impossible, even with the distraction of treating the bonfires as a vernacular architecture, and so not as symptom, but as purposeful strategy for a particular political and geographical situation.
However this could not deflect questions surrounding our presence there, which were highlighted by recent Council drives to include the Orange parades as part of the cities tourist attraction. We had then also to consider our trip as a form of Advanced Tourism (aesd). Where the spectacle of art world interests is heavily aliened with governmental directives and aims.
It was suggested that documentation of the bonfires burning was not critical to the documentation of them as architecture, and in fact might be problematic in that context, at another point it was noted that there were a lot of burned buildings around Belfast. It struck me that burning is a part of local vernacular of architectural usage, and is well within the remit of studying the bonfires as architecture. I suggested that an allied study might be undertaken about the burning of buildings in Belfast as architectural function.
This is some thing that will be pursued in following projects. It is particularly important as the initial error of not including the fires in an investigation of the bonfires as vernacular architecture, repeats the trick of architecture to remove its own vocabulary of negative function. It is precisely this replacing of full function back in the field of architectural discussion that is needed to fully describe its working.
A very specific demand was being placed on artwork and artist; for a work to operate as art and retain an honest relationship to how it produces itself, and for the artist to not be occluded or denied in considering the work. There could not be a perfect observatory of pure art from which to view the world.
There was a very powerful aesthetic created by the decorations of the Shankill Road which crudely, forcefully, illustrated a Rancierian theme of aesthetic terms directing social conditions of possibility, and perhaps this is a route into the study of the bonfires.
You were intrigued by the public surface of Belfast. At one end murals emblazon the history of opposing groups, and at the other, the council operate a team who drive around town roller-ing paint over any fly posters, obliterating their messages whatever their import.
Brief research showed that a local architecture group (lid-architecture.net) had a research project intended to see how the bonfires 'could be re-imagined in a less sectarian and environmentally threatening form' by turning them into utilities for the disposal of unwanted timber. The fires in years past used wood and tires, however seemingly as an environmental concession they now only use wood, along the lines of the LiD proposal, but however this has clearly not been part of a re-imagining of the sectarian meaning of the fires. Rather it seems that environmental concerns fill a space as a proxy, or substitute for more direct contestation of relations of power only when such politics of contestation have been effectively neutered.
My initial response as an artist to the context of the trip was to make video of the car journeys to some bonfire sites including conversations that moved rapidly between talk about art, the practicalities of our trip and the politics of Belfast. There was a sense of incongruity, or complexity of relation, that seemed possibly interesting. I am introducing markers into this video that indicate the apparent seams between these modes of engagement with the context. A further video of a pub conversations about the practicalities of the trip includes markers that seem to mark meaning in the conversation, much of which is in any case not clearly audible.