Growing up as a purple-haired punk rocker in the 1990s, I was aware of the divisions between the Catholics and Protestants, (the winding down of) the Troubles, Bobby Sands, the IRA, the Sinn Féin, the Good Friday Agreement, and all that, but had no idea, beyond what I read in some Punk and Anarchist zines, what things were like in Ireland. To be honest, I still don’t, but John Irvine‘s Partition opens a window to part of the landscape and social organization by presenting contemporary (2017/18) landscape views of the 20 miles of partition walls that divide Belfast to this day.
These walls seem ridiculous. They cut through homes, schools, and parks, wind along property lines or cut through them completely, block off roads and create choke points. They range from tall chicken and barbed wire, to corrugated sheet metal, to brick and stone, and all sorts of mishmashed, hack something together to keep the __________ out barriers. There’s even an underground wall in a cemetery to separate the remains of Catholics and Protestants. SubhanAllah.
Maybe the current US President could take some inspiration… Let’s see: the Belfast walls cover roughly 20km of a city that’s 6 miles wide at its widest point. The southern US border is nearly 4000 miles, and much of the terrain is rough and wild, so he couldn’t take over homes and co-opt garden walls like the British/Irish did, but still. The Belfast walls are still standing, and have far less political graffiti on them than does the disgraceful Israeli apartheid wall, and residents on both sides of the Belfast walls seem somewhat positive about them, unlike the West Bank variant. (And forget about the Berlin Wall, which fell after only 28 years. As our disgraceful President would say, “Disgraceful!”)
Few people appear in Irvine’s photographs of the barriers, maybe a handful; few automobiles too. It’s almost as if everyone has abandoned the area around the walls. In Irvine’s introduction, he mentions that neighborhoods near the walls are considered blighted, and investors shy away from them, so maybe that’s why so many look abandoned and overgrown. But the wall’s neighbors aren’t Irvine’s subject: he’s interested in the walls themselves.
Overall, Partition functions like an architectural survey, documenting the materials and types of barrier structures in Belfast. It seems to be a thorough survey, to be sure (and British and Irish urban planners could verify), but the fences tend to occupy the horizontal middle of the frame, and the repetition of here a fence, there a fence, everywhere a fence fence gets somewhat wearying by the end.
As a fully conceived and realized project, though, Partition forms a good model. Irvine mentions 2 years of planning and execution, and for a project as large and intense as this one, that seems quick! I know I’m 2 years into a project now, and still haven’t finished the photographing yet, much less the writing and sequencing, and my subject is far smaller, just a few buildings, really.
Overall, I give Partition 3.3 stars. The photographs are competent and well executed, but the whole thing leaves me a bit flat. It could do with some livening up somehow. One of the pictures had the outline of a football (soccer) goal on it: maybe find a kid to kick a ball against it? Maybe befriend some taggers, writers, and/or street artists and accompany them on some outings? Maybe pop in for a cup of tea with some of the proud Nationalists that have forceful memorials still freshly painted and gleaming on their homes? Some of Irvine’s other projects include the people (Myrkvifiörd, for example).
Partition remains available direct from Irvine’s BigCartel shop, and give his website a visit. Irvine is also active on Twitter (@JMIimages) and Instagram (@johnirvine1), so give him a follow and enjoy his work. There’s some good stuff there.