Wednesday, February 23

An iceberg in Belfast?

David Vance has been making fun of the artist Rita Duffy and her plans to bring an iceberg into Belfast Lough, as a concrete but poetic symbol that she says would open up a new way of thinking about local history.

I had the good fortune to hear Ms Duffy on the Today programme this morning.

When she began making her case, it was along the partly plausible lines of how this iceberg could function as some sort of allegory.

She says, "This is a good way forward for Belfast - rather than rebuild the Titanic, we should actually look at what interrupted our journey".

I presume she means that we should use the iceberg to stand in for our failure to live together peacefully in this part of the world, and by staring at it in the lough together, we would be able to finally agree that yes, in a sense, we had all crashed into something disastrous.

But after a couple of minutes on the radio programme this morning, she began making a parallel between the building of the Titanic and "imperialism" and putting forward other unlikely views about history, which reminded me of nothing more than the case histories of tedious critical posturings in Roger Kimball's The Rape of the Masters.

In other words, perhaps Rita Duffy is not interested in opening up our imaginations at all, but merely in using this project to put forward a set of conformist views.

I have seen another Duffy project around the city - the portraits of Belfast citizens along the hoarding beside the Waterfront Hall. I was not very impressed by those. The only advantage they had over a normal set of portraits was that they were in public view. It was hard to tell if they were well-painted or not, since they were inevitably seen from a bus or car. As murals, as least they were not in support of a paramilitary organisation.

I also remember her attempts to involve the residents of Divis Flats, a couple of Belfast Festivals ago, in switching the lights of their habitations on to to make a some kind of statement. As I recall, many of these residents declined to take part.

If I am honest, I have some doubts about Rita Duffy's view towards the people of Belfast. She says she wants to help them to speak out, and be represented, but do they really need her to help them do this? If they speak out in a way that she does not like, perhaps even to ridicule her ideas, will she really allow this?

After all, I am writing this only as one of the ordinary people of Belfast who Duffy presumably wants to help using her art, and I am sceptical about her project, and would like to decline her offer of healing, since I am not sick.

If she proceeds to raise the money for this project herself (Christo and Jeanne-Claude have taken no public money for their similar Gates project in New York City), it is all a free speech matter, so I wish her good luck, but I agree with David Vance that not a penny of public money should go towards this.

Finally, I would put forward that Thomas Hardy's poem The Convergence of the Twain is a far more open-ended, original and memorable way of thinking about the Titanic and the iceberg than Rita Duffy's proposed project.

It is freely downloadable from the internet and would only cost a few pence to print out.

Tuesday, February 1

Cover art

For no reason other than to inspire daydreams of music unheard and books unread, and because they look nice, here are a couple of links to galleries of cover art: first, to a hoard of album covers at New York's Academy Records; second, to a collection of book covers done by Edward Gorey.