Growing up in Northern Ireland has absolutely informed the person that I am. It took a lot of years to process what had actually happened in the period of the bloody "Troubles." I grew up in Northern Ireland. I’m born in 1971. We lived in a small farming community. My parents are farmers. We lived with constant military surveillance. My father slept with a gun under his bed; it wasn’t loaded but the bullets were in the night table beside the bed. For us, we played hide and seek around the gun, making sure not to insert any bullets into it with a clear understanding of what would happen if we did.
For us, that idea of war and of the fragility of life too because that’s also what we witnessed all around us was the simple removal of people through the war, through horrible, violent acts of terrorism. I have many feelings about it because I come from the Catholic side of the fence so to speak, and never connected at all to any Protestants in our surroundings.
Our schools were segregated. They still are segregated to this day. We had school uniforms, so we were easily identified as Catholics. There were many, of course, many military vehicles, so we were often spat on by the soldiers and constantly antagonized.
Myself, I see now as an adult, I carry this antagonistic position within me. For me, question of resistance or of antagonism or agonism is always something that I see as very much part of the person that I am, and I always even seek it out. I see that there are these different polarities in all sorts of communities but particularly if you grew up in a country, such as the north of Ireland.
The other thing too that has very much shaped my identity is the idea of being, not only Irish which I hold very dearly to, but also being a British subject. For me, recently, with regard to the Brexit issue in the UK, where I was living; so I was studying my Ph.D. in Oxford, the Brexit vote just happened towards the end of that period. I find it utterly shocking that there had been no discussion of the Northern Irish border and the implications of that. For myself, I lived already for some 15 years in Europe and in the Netherlands, and I couldn't believe that there had been an extraction that this idea to be removed out of a European common identity with all of its problems then.
The absolute lack of knowledge that I saw among even close friends of mine regarding the border, or the fact that they've never considered that and had voted for the Brexit, made my position hugely emotional. I had then had to decide to leave the UK because I thought I could not leave in a country that had taken that step.
Luckily, I have an Irish passport that allows me to stay in Europe and finally we have the privilege of some sense of cultural identity that has a privilege in itself.
I still follow very closely all that happens in Northern Ireland. My family still live there. I see myself very much as Northern Irish. I moved between calling myself Irish and Northern Irish as an indication of the person that I am.
Regarding something else too, as a creative practitioner, I also carry it very much with me. I went to art school in Belfast in 1991, and the Troubles were just at the height then. Basically, you were afraid to go in to any pub for fear of it being ransacked and their being 20 bodies on the floor, dripping in blood. I spent a year there in Belfast, on a foundation course in art and design, and it was one of the most harrowing years I would say of my life. I always think Belfast is a very bleak and black place. What comes along with war is also the rape of women on the streets. An incredible violation of powers.
In our art school, one of the painting teachers was talking about the colour yellow in one of the lectures. Then, I remember thinking this is utterly absurd to talk about the colour yellow when the streets are filled with blood. I thought for me in this place, there was no place for me because what life was about, was about survival. It was not about the joys of living. It was about trying to stay alive and constantly in conflict with the aggression that surrounds all of that. Not really finding yourself, well then at least for me. Someday you really just thought that, "I need to know the world and I need to move beyond this and out of this".
What I find also that was very interesting that it was very hard for artist in Northern Ireland to ever comment on the Troubles and usually, it took the form of somebody from the outside coming in to have that commentary, and it's something that I still see that is very difficult for us to actually-- When you're only inside of a conflict how do you actually represent that. Sometimes the only way is to move beyond the conflict to another place until you want to take distance because it becomes something that is completely embodied in everything that you do and think, and all practices that you make.
After some-- Let me see it's some 25 years, and I have not really living in the country that I still call home. I find it very hard to identify with other countries as being my home. I still always refer to going home when I return to Northern Ireland. I think to find some solace in the idea that what that life has given me is incredibly enriching, and made my thinking incredibly complex, I think too, because I have particular notions around the idea of consensus which in the Netherlands consensus is very much the base of all things.
For me, I have this idea always in my head of the senses that we have to find or place and be able to argue and give voice to whatever it is that we do. Also, with regarding the potential power of creative practices too, within those we need to be able to articulate also from our own narratives and our own stories through our own vernacular ways; the ways of the turning phrases. All of the cultural facets of growing up in a border land or a zone of conflict. I think that's it.