Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Mapping Alternative Ulster - Garrett Carr's exhibition of maps running in Ulster Museum until 22 June

On Saturday afternoon Garrett Carr gave a guided tour around his Mapping Alternative Ulster exhibition which is running hanging in the Ulster Museum’s Belfast Room. (In the main door, sharp right down the corridor and it’s in the room at the bottom on the left, looking out over Stranmillis Road.)

Like books, we ‘read’ maps. Like books, maps are full of stories, particularly the ones that have been curated for this exhibition.

On the walls, we looked at maps that had been drawn to preserve the names of a local area including a sample from an enormous collection of A3 drawings that Johnny McKeagney cut and paste together (with the help of a photocopier) to capture the style of buildings, the wildlife and the features of a 25 square mile area around the cartographer’s home. A couple of Garrett’s own maps are included: one which documents otherwise unmapped, unofficial border crossings; and another which maps places which exist only in fiction onto a real-world map of Ulster.

Some maps were more political. A photowalk discussed the chances of a pregnant women finding toilets to use in the centre of Belfast; and the Forum for Alternative Belfast’s map of unused/wasted space in Belfast.

Perhaps the most visually striking map faces visitors as they enter the exhibition. A solid orange circle with a jagged line around its circumference. Realising that Belfast was a largely hub and spoke city where everyone – assisted by the Metro bus routes – travels in from the suburbs towards the city centre before heading back out again, a group of artists attempted to walk around the edge of Belfast. Taking a one mile radius from Queen Street, they plotted their route along roads and paths, sometimes making long diversions to find a bridge to cross the Lagan. The map proves how badly connected many of the neighbourhoods of Belfast are, and how must arterial roads have sliced communities in two.

The highlight has got to John Carson’s ‘friend map’. Created in 1976 long before the friendship graphs of Facebook and other social network tools, he stuck photographs of his artistic friends to an Ordinance Survey map of Carrickfergus and the surrounding area. He drew lines from his house to their homes. And then he drew lines between people he thought knew each other. Despite being in the middle of the Troubles, friendships and visits within the artistic community crossed barriers, geographical, cultural and political.

At the conclusion of the tour, Garrett spoke to me about the exhibition and the maps he had chosen to display. You can keep up to date with Garrett Carr’s cartographical exploration on his New Maps of Ulster blog.

Worth a visit to the Ulster Museum to wander around the exhibition, gaze at the maps, and read the nearby illuminating legends. The exhibition closes on 22 June.

A number of free events are running alongside the exhibition. See the Ulster Museum website for booking details.

And if you’ve time, head upstairs to see the Art of the Troubles collection.

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