Burn/t Out: Crimes against social cohesion
by Allan LEONARD
10 April 2019
One of the criticisms of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is that it did not satisfactorily scope out mechanisms for dealing with the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland; the focus was forging a consensus on exclusively non-violent means of pursuing politics. One form of violence during the Troubles was the forced displacement of some 45,000-plus people from their homes, whether through physically burning their properties or verbal intimidation. On the 21st anniversary of the Agreement, an art exhibition was launched at ArtCetera Studio. Organised by artist and filmmaker Casey Asprooth-Jackson and academic Brendan Ciarán Browne, Burn/t Out presents narratives and artefacts of Northern Ireland’s internally displaced persons.
Upon entry, you are greeted by essential exhibition information displayed on a large plywood board, as used to cover damaged homes. Hung acetate sheets are there for you to place on an overhead projector, so you can review the evidence recorded by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Physical artefacts, such as a brick and photograph of a broken pane of glass, are nearby for your inspection. Read a copy of the Agreement to discover what is and is not written about victims and survivors. Watch a looping video of oral testimony from Paul, who revisits his former home.
Browne explained the genesis of the project, from working with Asprooth-Jackson on another project in Palestine. Their idea was to develop the idea of displacement as a concept. At first, they considered a comparative Palestinian-Northern Irish framework. But they realised that that was too big a project. Instead, they pursued a “deep dive” into Northern Ireland’s displacement story. It still took three years to realise this vision.
Browne remarked how uncomfortable he was in putting this work in such a public space: “I totally respect artists who do this, all the time.” He said that our local displacement topic has not been given due academic attention. For his part, he has written on Northern Ireland’s history of displacement in the context of contemporary migration in Europe. Browne is also co-writing a related book, with Niall Gilmartin.
Thanks were made to the Independent Social Research Foundation, for their support in bringing artists together for this project. And there were special thanks to the de facto advisory board: Ishaq Albarbary (Concrete Tent, Palestine), Michelle Teran, Sarah Pierce, and Kate Turner. Asprooth-Jackson expressed his gratitude for the “openness of so many people from this place”, the warm welcomes that he received working on this project in Belfast. He also thanked Paul (who features in a screened exhibition video), Emma, and Olivier (Director, ArtCetera Studio).
Overall, Burn/t Out succeeds in inviting visitors to reflect upon Northern Ireland’s displacement story in an intimate, personal way. The evidence presented doesn’t attempt to encapsulate everyone’s expulsion story. But for what you examine, you learn and appreciate that this story is a real one. And that we must work harder in redressing our crimes against societal cohesion and diversity.
Burn/t Out can be viewed at ArtCetera Studio, 43b Rosemary Street, Belfast, from 10-22 April 2019.