Human experience and rivers both tend to meander, and shapes people and cities. Our guest authors introduce an artistic project in which the comparison of archival and contemporary maps of city rivers echoes marginalised human experience.
For our contribution to this year’s Student Forum III project at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, my co-creator Ben Malcolmson and I interpreted the Forum’s central theme of access and accessibility by unearthing the rivers of queerness we trace through our respective cities of Dublin and Belfast. As an environmental historian, I was interested in consulting archival maps of our cities and of Ireland as a whole, using GIS software to visually compare them with one another and virtually embed our GPS-captured contemporary movements in the cartographic history of these places. This process had previously yielded interesting findings for me when comparing historical maps of my hometown, and applying it to a more artistic project proved just as rewarding.
The metaphor of the culverted river was central to our interests for this project so it was lovely to see so many different depictions of Dublin’s and Belfast’s waterways as their courses were buried, channelized, or landfilled. Comparing maps through time shows these rivers to be dynamic: subject to meandering, modification and, occasionally, cartographic error. One of our sources, the Plans of the principal towns, forts and harbours in Ireland, (OLS Papyrus Case 1 no.10, c1784) map from Trinity’s Early Printed Books collection depicts a more simplified version of the river Lagan in Belfast that appears to more closely follow the route of the now culverted Blackstaff as it curves around the city’s southern walls.
One of my favorite maps to work with work John Questebrone’s map of Dublin from Trinity’s Manuscripts & Archives Research Library (TCD MS 2208). Phoenix Park is important to my personal queer map of Dublin as it’s where I go to meet up with the queer running group Dublin Front Runners throughout the week. Most of the Dublin maps we consulted omit Phoenix Park or only depict the easternmost corner but the Questebrone map depicts it prominently in yellow, rivaling the city center in prominence. The rivers in this map are also depicted prominently: the Liffey, Dodder, Tolka, and the Poddle all stand out boldly when compared to the dotted lines connecting Drumcondra to Clontarf or Templeogue to Killiney.
This is one of my takeaways from collaborating with Ben on this project: that the dynamic and changeable nature of rivers is what allows them to define a city through time. Even from underground, the river Farset makes its presence known through the listing of the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast. Human experience is like that: powerful in its tendency to meander. The more we can “daylight” the experiences of those who have been made to hide underground, not by forcing folk to adhere to the rigid ways of the street but by acknowledging and reifying the desire paths we follow, the stronger and more resilient our places become.
Gabriel Coleman and Benjamin Malcolmson’s piece Atlas of Residual Traces will be exhibited in the Douglas Hyde Gallery on September 17th from 16:00-21:00 as part of Culture Night and as part of the Student Forum III’s online magazine Rendering New Realities: Access and Alterity.