Frontier Work

Regional Cultural Centre, Donegal, Ireland
14 January – 4 March 2022

Featuring artists: Noel Connor, Janet Hoy, Anna Marie Savage and Sue Morris (in collaboration with Greg McLaughlin)

Curated by Garrett Carr

For all it's life, Ireland's border has been contested and it's future in question. It has been very consistent in it's instability, even the shake-up caused by Brexit can seem just another phase in it's constant redefinition, each change marked by infrastructure rising and falling and rules that come and go. But it would be wrong to say the border is only infrastructure and rules, it is not just something officious. The border is overloaded with history and fraught with questions of identity, to such an extent that crossing the line can be an emotional experience, drawing on who we think we are and where we think we have the right to be. Border writer Michael Hughes has, half-humorously, described experiencing the border on an unmarked road in this way: "Stand right there and you can feel it, that tingle."

It is in such zones of uncertainty that visual art offers new ways of seeing. All the works in Frontier Work have one thing in common. The artists have taken direct approaches, representing landscape, topography and place with a wonderful honesty. The borderline, placenames of Belfast, Armagh vantage points, border roads and businesses all studied with a curious and generous gaze. These four artists have taken photos on their phones, from drones or uncovered old footage. They have witnessed the border directly and come back with evidence of it's tingle. The artists chronical a time and a place, not a border out of history books and newspapers, but a lived reality. Whatever happens to the border next, this much, at this time, is true.

Bingo Borderland; Sue Morris in collaboration with Greg McLaughlin
Bingo Borderland emerges from an interest in the border businesses Morris sees along the frontier: road-side vendors, used-car dealerships, currency exchanges, amusement arcades and filling stations. Sometimes, commercial giants are found side-by-side with the small vendors. Borders are often sites of division but also places of opportunity for trade and exchange, this is just one of the many paradoxes found along a living border like Ireland's. Much of the borders character, is defined by the clashing interest of state security and regional trade. Taken together, frontier businesses constitute a lively cross-border economy but their sometimes adhoc appearance reflects the shifting precarious, nature of economic life on the border. Morris' husband, Greg McLaughlin, is a media sociologist and has brought his discipline to Bingo Borderland. The coolly inquisitive work looks at the contradictions between everyday experience and ongoing contestation of the border. By using two slideshow montages, projected side-by-side Bingo Borderland shrewdly puts a sense of duality right at the heart of the work, rather like the border itself.
On a smaller screen a looped video of what some now call the sea border, is offered, captured during a night crossing of the Irish Sea. In these works Morris and McLaughlin reveal the commonplace day-to-day realities that are concealed by political rhetoric.

Garrett Carr, author of The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland's Border