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Ireland Focus and Beyond | Martin Bureau

14th September 2017

performingborders (Alessandra Cianetti): Martin, I was introduced to your long-term and complex work through your film ‘Bonfire’ that was shot in Belfast with the support of artists who I interviewed for the performingborders Ireland Focus. With your practice we leave the realm of live art to enter the one of documentation and multi-media artworks in order to have a glimpse of the definitely relevant research you are conducting. Let’s start from ‘Bonfire’. What did bring you to Northern Ireland? Why this film?

Martin Bureau: You might know already, in Canada many people are from Ireland. From the times of the Irish Great famine in the 1840’s, the English Crown sent millions of Irish people here in Québec. After crossing the ocean, they were first quarantined in a small island in the St-Lawrence River, right in front of where I lived for many years. Therefore this historical period has always fascinated me and it is part of my imaginary. Today, we share a lot of cultural traits with Irish people, for instance in food and music traditions. In Canada, people are mostly from Protestant denomination while in Québec, French Canadians are mostly Catholics. Obviously, even though nothing is perfect here in Canada, we didn’t experience confessional tensions as they did in Northern Ireland.

I do personally maintain a high degree of suspicion towards colonial powers and I feel very close to Irish culture, that is basically how I’ve been attracted to this country, as well as I was, many years ago, innocently wondering how people living so close to each other, culturally speaking, could take up arms and engage themselves in a terrific conflict.

As an artist, when I started to develop this interdisciplinary project about walls of separation in 2013, in collaboration with the Raoul-Dandurand Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM), I was invited to take part in their biannual conference on Border walls. The conferences gathered many researchers from around the world. I have to say that, among the 70 considered cases of walls of separation in the world, the Peace Lines in Belfast were completely absent from the debate. They are not officially considered as ‘Bordel walls’ and since the Troubles are officially over, they have been internationally forgotten.

That’s why, basically, I decided to include the Peace Lines case in my project, as a reminder of the fact that in Northern Ireland the territories are completely split by walls and in a certain way, they can be considered ‘Border walls’.

In my short movie ‘Bonfires’, with my team, we shot some «festivities» around the Orangist parade, when each 12th of July people lit huge bonfires to commemorate the 1690’s victory of Guillaume d’Orange over the Catholics. We don’t see walls but we understand why they are still there…


Still from ‘Bonfires’, HD documentary, 2017

performingborders (Alessandra): ‘Bonfire’ is part of a five-year project around the notion of ‘walls of separation’ that brought you to address not only the Northern Ireland/ Republic of Ireland border but also the Palestine/Israel one and will bring you to the Mexico/US border this coming November. Would you mind to tell us more about this project and how it has been developing over the years?

Martin: This project is interdisciplinary and gathers different media such as painting, video-installation, documentary and geopolitical studies. I believe in the development of transversal disciplines and that’s why I approached the Raoul-Dandurand Chair. Coming from the visual arts, I was not a researcher in their field and I offered them to collaborate by working with «images» around problematics that in the university networks academics mainly address in writing. I simply asked them: ‘ What are the issues are you working on and what are your conclusions?’. I wanted to make sure that what I could produce in this project could be relevant and meaningful also for top level researchers on the subject of ‘Border walls’.

So I chose to work on three specific cases that express major issues about walls of separation: confessional conflict, social inequalities, terrorism, drug and human smuggling, illegal immigration. With the Palestine/Israel Separation Barrier, the Peace Lines in Northern Ireland and the Security Fence in the Mexico/US Border, I felt that I could cover many issues related to walls of separation around the world.

Structurally the project, a work in progress currently named ‘Walls of Disorder,’ consists of 6 short movies (I do shoot on each side of each wall), up to 3 video-installations, 20 paintings and all the theoretical contents provided by researchers from the Raoul-Dandurand Chair. All the paintings and movies are not didactic; they express and show some situations and issues along each wall with an experimental and aesthetic approach. The role of the researchers is to explain the context around these walls and together we want to write an editorial statement by claiming that the walls are not working for the reasons they have been built. They are supporting a political agenda, as we can see with the great show of Trump around the Security Fence. He says that HE WILL build a wall but in fact, 1500km of the 3200km border is already done. The Security Fence Act, created in 2006 by the Bush administration, laid the groundwork of this landscape’s scar.

All contents of ‘Walls of Disorder’ will be gathered on a new website as well as I want to show the project internationally in collaboration with Galerie 3 and Spira (an artist’s run centre) in Québec City, that represent and distribute my work and are helping to spread the project in different contexts such as galleries, museums, films festivals. We are also in discussion with the Raoul-Dandurand Chair to integrate the project into their educational program.

After the last shooting at the Mexico/US border will be done this coming November, the final editing of the movies and the web platform finalised, we will launch the project in the Winter 2018-2019. I could say that we are now at the 2/3 of the final completion.


Martin Bureau while shooting his movie «They Asked Nobody», Qalqylia, Palestine,  2013. Credit: Catherine Benoit

performingborders (Alessandra): You have been working on and with really contentious borders and with the terrifying use of ‘walls’ as physical lines of demarcation of powers, bodies’ movement and people’s rights. Would you mind to elaborate on the notion of ‘walls of separation’ and what role it plays in your artistic practice and theoretical thinking?

Martin:  Conceptually speaking, I want to express the idea of the ‘end of dialogue’ and put emphasis on this very fascinating fact that while we are experiencing globalization with many pretensions and neoliberalism arrogance and creating overwhelming inequalities, countries are increasingly fencing themselves. There is not a month where we don’t listen to an announcement about a new wall to be built. When I started this project in 2013, we were speaking of 50 and so walls in the world. Now, there are more than 70 walls who are physically built or under construction. Since 1989, when the Berlin Wall was torn down, we experienced more new walls than in the entire human history. For me, this contradiction is as incredible as outrageous.

Generally, my work in cinema and visual arts is conceptually and aesthetically concerned with problematics about catastrophes. ‘Wall of Disorder’ is a part of this approach because to me walls are catastrophes by themselves. In parallel to this project, I’m developing a new painting series about the concept of the Anthropocene, a geologic term for the proposed epoch that began when human activities had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The Iced Age would be over. A New Era is under way and future is uncertain.


Still from ‘Bonfires’, HD documentary, 2017.

Martin Bureau lives and works Québec City, Canada. Both a painter and filmmaker, Martin Bureau has presented his works at many events and gatherings around the world. Among them, the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto, the Chicago International Film Festival, the National Museum of Fine Arts in Québec City or the VIII Bienal de video y nuevos medios in Santiago, Chile. While his works are prized by collectors, they also enrich the collections of many public and private institutions in Québec Province. His work in painting and film continues to express aesthetic and social subjects while looking to provide a lasting testament of the present era and its stakes. 

Featured image credits: Palestine, 2013. Image by Catherine Benoit

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