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Mapping Beyond Borders

2012 - 2017

WayMarkers was a long term art project which Irish artist Marilyn Lennon began in the years just before the UK Brexit vote, which engaged in the collaborative mapping of hikers routes that criss-crossed the IRL/UK border on the island of Ireland. This evolved from working with the Knockatallon Ramblers hiking club, creatively working with their embodied knowledge of place, which has given them a particular perspective of the border between rural Co. Monaghan and the adjoining counties across the border. From her experience growing up on the same border, Marilyn walked with the Ramblers and worked with them using artistic, participatory and collaborative methods. The work first revealed a deep understanding of the ramblers wider motivations and concerns, uncovering a desire to create a counter narrative of place. Later the work led to the co-development, with GIS developer Brian O’Hare, of an innovative prototype online community map, with the potential to map routes that traverse the full length of the border territory. The online community map prototype allows hikers to produce maps of trails and to upload digital coordinates, images, videos, sound and text which maps the hikers intimate, ecological, cultural knowledge of place.

This work extends Marilyn's particular interest in the social production of space and the development of new territorialities as contestation. The entire art project produced co-developed and co-created actions, situations, sites of exchange, artefacts and documentation.

This project was initiated in 2012 and developed with the Knockatallon Ramblers with support from the Arts Council of Ireland's, 'Artist in the Community' Scheme, Phase One, Research and Development fund, and Phase Two, Project Development fund.

Hiking with the Knockatallon Ramblers

Since the partition of Ireland and Northern Ireland in 1922 ‘The Border’ discourse is dominated by the twin authorities of Religion and Governance and has been primarily focussed on contested territory and authority. In recent history 'peace' has opened up the possibility for local communities along the 360km border to expand the limited narrative of that space. This art project worked with the potential of a slow contemplative, reflective move through natural and urban geography, an embodied phenomenon, experienced along the Irish/Northern Irish borders length, crisscrossing the borderline. Knockatallon in Co Monaghan is sandwiched between Armagh city and Enniskillen (Co. Tyrone), in the Slieve Beagh hills. From beginning the project I walked with the Ramblers, and with six other hiking clubs from North and South of the border who make a habit of routing walks that crisscross back and forth from Northern Ireland into Ireland and vice versa.

Co. Monaghan has the longest International county boundary in Europe, touching counties Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh in Northern Ireland. 'The Border' is the only international border in the world that is not physically marked at road crossings. A huge network of roads crisscross along its length and locals will tell you they know they’ve crossed the border because road markings and signage are different on each side. Even now, though I grew up in Monaghan a few miles from the Armagh/Monaghan border, I still use the road markings, the thickness of the white line, the colour of road signs, to get my bearings, to orientate myself – north or south. In 1973 there were one-hundred and four road crossings connecting County Monaghan to the Counties it touches in Northern Ireland; Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh. In 1974 there were six. Ninty-eight crossings were closed by the British Government in that short time.

Since the peace process all of the crossings have been reopened, meaning that generations of border people have developed a ‘sense of place’ of their home that has been altered and re-altered. The shifting ‘sense of place’ in this location is rarely explicitly considered. Yi Fu Tuan in his theories on Space and Place raises the relationships between mobility and a sense of place, and the relationships between time and mobility. Tuan asks us to consider how long does one take to change an experience of a place from ‘knowing about’ to having a ‘feel’ for a place. He proposes that time spent in contact, experiencing the place at some level, is necessary to make that transition.

'Peace' has opened up the possibility for local communities along the 360km border to expand the limited narrative on that space. Emerging from the research carried out to date with the hikers through hikes, meetings and workshops, I would suggest that broadening the Border discourse requires this transition from ‘knowing about’ to having a ‘feel’ for a place, and that the border region hikers have achieved this within their own community through their particular intimate, slow interactions with geography. I am interested in their re-articulation of place and the possibilities that the articulation offers within this art project. This is a process of, as Rogoff says "Undoing geography as a disciplining force on the subject."

As I walk with the club I witness the rituals of hiking – shared car rides, a uniform of waterproofs, a pace set, silences, breathing, stopping and looking, loosing oneself in thoughts, a pause to drink, a story volunteered , bird naming, landmarks noted, a pause to listen to histories recounted, the sound of wind, rush of blood in ears, falling in and out of couplings, the grounds solidity shifting, rows formed, stepping into footprints, nose runs, the linger of rain, warm innards on a steep climb, lights dim and brighten, trees roaring in the wind, the long high panoramic view, stretched calves, the leaders whistle, directions followed, hills and terrain noted, body strains…. In this liminal space I have experienced a ritual of ‘knowing’ evolve.

The WayMarkers online community map is created to capture a particular description of place from a rambler’s perspective. We draw lines on the landscape. We are natural cartographers. The geographer and artist Tim Robinson put it well, 'while walking the land, I am the pen on the paper; while drawing this map, my pen is myself walking the land.' Ramblers draw new routes and passages made by the body moving across landscape, walking, climbing ditches, stepping across, pushing through. We carve passages, negotiate rights of way, hiking around or over obstacles, we know places in a way that only the slow intimate pace of a walk lets you know. We pay attention, we hear, we see, our bodies draw lines and we take note. Map artists claim the authority to portray a richer reality of a place than is marked down on a standard map. In place of the official maps, we are creating a map that communicates our own experience of the places we know, it is a counter-map that offers an alternative representation of the border, as we know it.

Online community mapping

Step by Step Artists Book - A DIY Mapping Manual

WayMarker - Printed Lunch Bags

Artists Book with WayMarkers Ramblers Patch

Artists Book - Detail

WayMarkers Launch - Market House Gallery, Monaghan Town.

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