An Activist Alphabet

An Activist Alphabet


15th April 2011
Abstract Title:
An Activist  Alphabet: Landscape Art and Peace building in Northern Ireland

is part of the Paper Session:
Geographer- artists: creative practice as research tool? 3: Participating

Lia D Shimada, PhD* – University College London

“Post-conflict” Northern Ireland offers rich material for visual artists to explore the politics of peace building in a divided society. For Christoff Gillen, the contested ground of Belfast is a canvas for provoking dialogue about place, identity and belonging. In Spring 2008, he launched an installation on Divis Mountain, the highest point in Belfast. On the eastern slope, Gillen and his team of volunteers created large symbols and a series of letters that, over several weeks, spelled the word “HOME.” Due to the sheer size and scale of his installations, the people of Belfast became unwitting participants of Gillen’s artistry, as he challenged the wider public to engage with Northern Ireland’s legacy of conflict.

In June 2008, I assisted Gillen with his installations, later incorporating both the product and the process into my own research on geographies of conflict transformation in Northern Ireland. This experience generates larger questions about the scope for geographic engagement with creative artistic collaborations. What kinds of challenges and insights do geographers bring to participatory visual art? How does geographic scholarship complicate, mediate and illuminate the relationship between the conceptualized project and its public reception? What are the implications for this process in a society recovering from violent conflict, where artistic expressions are frequently interpreted as controversial, politicized intent? In this paper, I draw on Gillen’s work – and my engagement with it – to explore the complex terrain between landscape art, participatory research and cultural geography in the broader processes of peace building.

Original text link.