Blackstaff is Belfast

Locative media sound walk accompanied by gallery based video installation. Exhibited within the ISEA 2009 juried exhibit held at Ormeau Baths, Belfast from 7th -29th of August, 2009. In collaboration with Stuart Sloan.

The Blackstaff River, a principal tributary of the Lagan River, flows underground from the south of Belfast to the city’s centre. The majority of the river was culverted (constricted to artificial channels beneath the city) in the late 19th century. Prior to industrialisation in Belfast, the river coursed through woodland, parkland, meadows and natural flood planes. By 1881 the river had become severely polluted and was regarded as an obstruction to urban growth.

Blackstaff is Belfast demonstrated what needed to be abolished in the past as a means to progression and did so at a time in Belfast when a great deal of new development and regeneration was underway. Blackstaff is Belfast brought forth the history of the river so as to question the then present bout of construction, asking whether the things being replaced may be missed or may be of value to a future populous. The work also demonstrated how the past may persist within, or physically bear upon, the present. Through the overlaying of sound, the work highlighted aspects of Belfast’s cityscape, which bear reference to the river either by name or in form.

For Blackstaff is Belfast, visitors to the host gallery, Ormeau Baths, were invited to undertake a short walk along the previous course of the Blackstaff River. Each participant was equipped with a location-aware mobile device and headphones; via this technology, participants were able to explore an imaginary sound environment, which was mapped onto the encountered landscape. This environment comprised of field recordings that were captured at various sites in Northern Ireland were rivers still flow. In doing so, a sense of what the Blackstaff River may once have been like, throughout different periods of its history, was presented.

Video depicts a walk through the Gasworks portion of the work. Overlaid sound is an example of what the participant would hear through their headphones as they traverse the augmented site.