Aarhus-based architect James Martin was kind enough to share with me the small book he created (with the help of my friends Ben Clement and Sebastian de la Cour) around, what I would call, an archaeology of truth in Northern Ireland. He named the book Revising Histories [building truth] to reflect the collection of narratives that he came to encounter in his attempt to reconstitute what we might call, an illusory reconstitution of truth. By illusory I do not imply that there are many truths that would be all equal, but, rather, that the notion of truth is only communicated through constructed discourses, which always involve the subjectivity of the “teller” and the “listener”. This subjectivity is based on what I would like to call “axiomatic truth”, i.e. that on what one’s constructed system of truth is constructed upon and that constitutes the very core of any political conflict since there is a fundamental impossibility to understand each other as long as the axiomatic truths do not overlap. What James conveys brilliantly in his project is that several constructed narratives — sometimes in conflict with each other — can be collected around a given object, thus creating another level of truth discourse.
The book includes for example two leaflets illustrating two antagonist discourses about the same region of Ulster for which they are both hoping to develop tourism : one coming from the Northern Island government — officially part of the United Kingdom — and one from the Irish Nationalists. While the first part promotes a sort of “pre-political” history of the region as well as the geographical quality of the site (see edited photograph below on the left), the second one, on the other hand, is focusing on the local resistance to the British occupation materialized by the remaining watchtowers (see document below too) and goes as far as promoting the (veritable or not) amount of British soldiers killed in the region.
To these two (sometimes more) truth discourses collected by James all along his book, he adds an additional one: an architectural one. He designed five towers (The Tower of the Perpetrator, the Tower of the Unknown, the Tower of Peace and Propaganda, the Tower of the Uninformed and the Tower of the Victim) in the form of proposal to the local population(s) that would or would not accept the acknowledgement of the truth discourses that are materialized through them. I copied below the description that James elaborated for each of them. Of course, the truth discourse that is constructed through these towers is also ambiguous for its symmetry and its outsider position.
My own truth discourse about this project can be formulated through the form of a suspicious paranoia. By paranoia, I do not really want to refer to a pathology but rather to the systematic questioning of any truth discourse. My reading of the book Revising Histories is based on the following suspected narrative: James never went to Northern Island, he never collected leaflets, edited photographs or any other historical documents. He produced himself all the documents of the book from his office in Denmark, he built up a website to reference the made up photographer he is using and, for that matter, he is not even a real person, but rather the simulacrum of a College student used by benandsebastian for their new art project.
What I want to convey through this doubt is not a sort of Cartesian quest for an elemental truth — “the only thing I am sure of is that I am — but rather that the subjectivity of truth discourses can be embraced in order to reveal an element of the real. The only difference between a fiction film and a reportage by CNN is that one of them explicits the subjectivity of its truth discourse. This is why the pseudo-documentaries (see past article) of Peter Watkins and Chris Marker are so powerful. The viewer knows that (s)he is watching a piece of fiction, but the means used to unfold this fiction being the exact same than the ones used by documentaries that claim a sort of objective truth discourse, the vision of the real expressed is more susceptible to be conveyed.
All following documents are extracted from Revising Histories [building truth] by James Martin (2012):
01- Tower of the Perpetrator
The first tower to be constructed in Croslieve is an exact replica of Golf Four Zero, the original observation post that was removed from the mountain in 2007. The Tower of the Perpetrator is to be used as a monument to those that died on both sides of the conflict: both Loyalist and Nationalist paramilitary groups have used the status of “victim” to justify their acts of violence and have seen the other as the “perpetrator” of their suffering. Both observation posts are to be reconstructed using data obtained from photographs: as the information is incomplete the structures shall remain empty-shells lines with the names of the perpetrators. Visitors will find these structures at the southernmost point of the Croslieve Mountain ridge and, from inside, can admire the view below to the countryside of Northern and Southern Ireland.
02- Tower of the Unknown
The Tower of the Unknown and its surrounding structures are based on those that once inhabited other military sites in the Ring of Gullion They will be erected alongside the remaining structures of the Golf-Four-Zero complex. Here this mishmash of pieces, new and remaining, will present the misconceptions and myths held by the people of South Armagh: an inconspicuous garden shed conceals an underground accommodation unit, while the fifteen-metre-tall tower (G20) dominates overhead. These non-functional attention grabbing structures question the role the originals had in the landscape from the perspective of the South Armagh community.
03- Tower of Peace and Propaganda
Jutting out from the west face of Croslieve’s summit, The Tower of Peace and Propaganda is to be used as a museum to celebrate the peace agreement and a headquarters for organising and holding peace talks and meetings for the communities of the Ring of Gullion and South Armagh. The tower complex will also house offices for the political tour operators of Nationalist and Loyalist denomination. Visitors to the tower can gain an insight into the history of the peace process of Northern Ireland and/or attend a presentation from both standpoints in the underground conference room. All spaces of the tower complex are lit indirectly from overhead window slots and roof lights – while views of the landscape are denied.
04- The Tower of the Uninformed
Before reaching the summit one can find refuge in this wooden tower and its complex of carved out spaces below. The entrance staircase, cast into the landscape, tapers to filter walkers into single file so as to better appreciate the succeeding space of the tower’s cavity – lit from above. Off this, in the mess hall, the walker can eat their packed lunch in front of a picture window with a view towards the summit of Slieve Gullion – the centrepiece of the Gullion Ring. An inaccessible terrace protrudes out from the mess hall under this window frame and obstructs views down on those ascending from below. Overhead the tower’s observation deck is accessible yet the tight space restricts numers to one at a time. From here views are controlled to specific mountain and hill tops in the Gullion Valley. The tourist is not informed that these positions in the landscape were once sites of occupation and conflict, instead they are allowed to admire the landscape in peace. Accommodation is provided in the underground dormitory should the bad weather persist.
05- The Tower of the Victim
The Tower of the Victim shall sit on and in a small hill at the base of Croslieve Mountain and the start of the Croslieve Way. The tower shall be used as a memorial to the 3,722 people who lost their lives during “The Troubles”. The victim’s names can be read on the walls as one ascends its staircase. The names, both of Irish Nationalists and Ulster Loyalists, sit side by side and are lit from an out of reach light-shaft above. The pace of the stairs quickens the further into the hill one ventures. A small bench at the top of the hill provides a resting spot for those to stop and admire the ladder fields of the surrounding countryside and assess the climb ahead. The landscape will be cut and shaped to expose and showcase the basalt rock of this ancient volcanic region while providing a safe-haven inside of it. From the top of the stairs the underground tunnel network of Croslieve Mountain is accessible.