Useless Terrain - Waiting, Watching, Drawing
Useless terrain propagates a holistic restoration project upon the Ballynagrenia and Ballinderry Bog in County Westmeath, designing a walkway that determines a 10,000 year journey around the bog, as it ever so slowly repairs itself from violent colonial and industrial scarring. The project is told through a conceptual drawing practice that waits, watches and records the return of this vital ecosystem. The consistent drawing process navigates the unrelenting passing of time and the steady moving and breathing of the bog, while encompassing a 10 km boardwalk that determines a new relationship and ritual the people have with the terrain. The walkway will dam the bog, keeping it waterlogged for the restoration to flourish. In effect plugging the indents and scars left by hyper industrialisation and extraction from the land.
The project draws attention to the time difference the bog adheres to, and with it, its mystery and Gothic characterisation; illustrating the bog’s relevance in ancient folklore, colonial history, storytelling and the environment. The relentless drawing of the terrain is charged by the reading of Waiting for Godot, as an endless, enduring practice which aims to characterize the eternal monotony of the bogs restoration. Capturing the slow perpetual motion of the bog and its restoration through the projects proposal, as viewed from the walkway over the course of the 10,000 years it takes for the bog to be repaired.
Every hectare of drained peatland emits 2 tonnes of carbon per annum; known peatlands only cover about 3% of the world’s land surface, but store at least twice as much carbon as all of Earth’s standing forests. It is estimated 100,000 households in Ireland; many in old, draughty dwellings, use turf for heating. Cutting turf for fuel has been practiced for centuries, communities helped one another cut turf, competed for the best sods, and established a strong cultural identity through turf cutting. The project proposes a new form of cultural tradition, one that provides communal care for the local ecosystem.
The British colonial attitude to the Boglands viewed the terrain as useless, and needed draining to convert the bog into arable land, monetising the land and giving it “purpose”. The English saw Ireland as ‘a land of war’, inhabited by a savage people, ‘the wild Irish’ who lived in bogs and mountains. The draining of the bogs in the eyes of the English remedied the land, and offered a civilising impression on a useless land and savage peoples.
Exploring how the terrain has been prescribed as “useless” has been the core of my reading of the bog, as the hyper industrialisation of the land for fuel, presented a “use” for the land, its properties that had been ignored by so explicitly by the British jurisdiction, who only campaigned for the land to be converted into arable farm pasture. The reactionary industrialisation meant Ireland could be self sufficient, no longer reliant on British coal.
Bog time has also been identified as an crucial theme to the project, waiting for the bogs restoration will take thousands of years. The waiting process will seem fruitless for many lifetimes. The walkway is in a constant state of repair, giving parallel to the perpetual care needed to restore the bog. The drawing process works in a similar way, to identify this perpetual care and attention to this vital ecosystem.