Sailortown Map, exhibition at The Mac 2012, © Isobel Anderson and Fionnuala Fagan
The Stories of the City: Sailortown installation was, therefore, a visual experience for visitors as much as an aural one. Rather than separating sound in the form of song and soundscapes, we aimed to contextualize them through the use of images and objects. As Morris argues, regarding the additional layers of memory that can be found in “the interstices between sight and sound” mentioned above, combining the visual, physical, and aural in the installation space strengthened Sailortown’s presence within the work.
In the gallery we also diffused field recordings of the motorway and the sea, which I had made in the early stages of the project. There is an unnerving similarity between these two soundscapes: the sea, which represents what once was Sailortown’s main form of industry, and the motorway, which represents Sailortown’s demise. Therefore, we positioned these recordings at either side of the room, slowly panning them across one another. This meant that they gradually mixed together in the center of the room, while still maintaining their individual characteristics at the room’s extremities.
As an installation and a collection of songs, the project not only acts as an artwork, but also maps a largely forgotten part of Belfast. It could be easy to walk through Sailortown and only recognize the fly over, car parks, and wasteland that now make up its physical presence in Belfast. However, Stories of the City: Sailortown maps the SRG’s individual lives, personalizing the sounds of the motorway, the sea, and the content of the songs. This plays an important role in re-mapping areas of a city that have fallen into degradation or have disappeared completely.
Similarly, Denis Wood also mapped his local neighborhood, Boylan Heights, when its landscape was threatened with the building of a new road. Rather than an impersonal piece of anonymous land, Wood likewise wanted to consider alternative ways of viewing his neighborhood:
[…] there were other ways of thinking about it [Boylan Heights, IA] as a neighborhood, that it was some sort of community, or as a marriage of community and place, or as those people in that place, their relationships, and their ways in the world. (Wood 2010: 16)
I hoped that Stories of the City: Sailortown would similarly map the personal value of Sailortown in order to question Belfast’s present-day relationship with this area of the city. The project forces people to look beyond the flyover and car parks to the architectures and community that once stood in their place. Additionally, the invisible qualities of sound and storytelling gave voice to the SRG’s personal and invisible, but still very important, internal constructions of Sailortown. This was an internal mapping embedded within their minds, which Carol Becker argues is integral and distinctive in our present positioning in the world:
[…] such virtual spaces also can become sites of true interrogation that engage the senses, the memory, and society while critically challenging us to find, and define the phenomenological world and our place within it. (Becker 2009: 26)
Even if a place purely exists through our memories or imaginations, and potentially our listening, it can still be vitally important in negotiating our present placing in the world. As demonstrated by Soundscapes of The Black Hills, we all map individually, and as Miastofon reveals, accepted ways of orientating and experiencing a city can be far from many peoples realities.
Since its installation at The MAC in 2012, Stories of the City: Sailortown has been made available online, and the songs have been archived in the British Library in London and the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. This enforces the project’s significance as a document of this lost district, and the installation broadened people’s awareness of Sailortown and its past. One visitor to the exhibition said that, “[i]n four years in Belfast I have taken the M2 various times. I had never heard of Sailortown before this, and would have not known if this project had not taken place” (N.N. 2012).
However, Stories of the City: Sailortown does not operate as a traditional map. In comparison to Soundscapes of the Black Hills and Miastofon, Stories of the City: Sailortown is the least conventional in terms of its cartographic character. The piece operates completely detached from a grid, relying on storytelling, listening, and objects to map Sailortown prior to the building of the M2. Therefore, the project stems more from Neuhaus’ LISTEN and Cardiff’s soundwalks; these maps unfold in the experience of listening and navigation through space rather than as visual diagrams. However, their ability to map facets of space, place and existence is no less profound. By stepping away from the gridded map of Belfast, Stories of the City: Sailortown revealed voices that had been silenced in traditional maps of the city.
Even so, it is important to consider whose interests this map serves and the different motives various parties brought to the project. The MAC exhibited a project that engaged with a local community, Fionnuala and I were able to share the artistic work we had created, but what of the SRG? Members of the group have expressed how much pride and fulfillment they have felt in the project, raising Sailortown’s profile in Belfast’s collective consciousness. Many members commented on how good it felt that the people who came to the installation and heard the seven songs were interested in learning about their lives and stories. For example, one of the SRG members, Marie O’Hara, described what it was like to participate in the project overall:
These girls arrived out of the blue and lit up the world for us just by asking us where we came from, how we felt about where we came from, [and] how we lived it day by day.
Songwriting was a powerful medium with which to communicate not only the details of Sailortown and the SRG’s individual histories, but also the emotions that are so strongly connected with these memories. However, the project did not meet with all of the SRG’s expectations. The SRG passionately advocate for more investment in the re-development of Sailortown, and especially for the renovation of St Joseph’s Church. Some members hoped Fionnuala and I could further their cause in some way. Although the project did achieve many things as an artwork and map of the area, it had little influence over Sailortown’s re-development or the renovation of St Joseph’s Church. Therefore, perhaps there was a conflict of interests within this project between mapping Sailortown as an artwork and mapping Sailortown as a political cause, even if the two are not mutually exclusive.
In “Mapping Community Art” (Gielen 2011) Pascal Gielen considers the role of art within the context of community groups and political interests:
Community art only makes sense when it refuses to be used as an instrument of uniform, homogenizing, calculating logic, and when it produces the most divergent communities through the confrontation of many singular and dissonant forms of imaginative power. (Gielen 2011: 33)
We did use the imaginative powers of memory, artistic expression, and cartography to increase public awareness of Sailortown, but we undoubtedly did not, and could never have, physically re-built its streets, buildings, and lives. However, through individual memories, Stories of the City: Sailortown did re-map the area’s “in-between-spaces” of memory, artistic expression, and cartography to increase public awareness.
 O’Hara, Marie (personal communication, February 7, 2012).