The two main tenets of Nigel Swannʼs photographic practice are concerned with ‘Landscape and Memoryʼ and ‘Architecture as Politicsʼ.
Living on the European fringes of Hungary and Ireland between 2004 and 2016 provided a rich source of enquiry into these concerns. The project Yellow-Star Houses of Budapest and the ongoing Borderlands of Ireland are germane in todays political climate.
With the 75th anniversary of the ‘dispersed ghettosʼ in Budapest approaching extra gravitas seeps into this body of work. It throws light on a phenomenon unique to Hungary and Budapest , nowhere else in Nazi-occupied Europe were houses reserved for Jews marked with the yellow-star.
Although around 1,600 former yellow-star houses are still standing and in residential use today, this fact was largely unknown until early 2014. Barely a handful of archival photographs of yellow-star houses remain: Hungarian Jews had had their cameras, radios and bicycles confiscated in April 1944, only the latest in a long series of humiliating acts of legislation.
After the war, this was one of the subjects that remained off-limits, both publicly and in private, even within many families. Neither the victims nor the perpetrators wanted to talk.
The crucial question asked in this work is where barely any archival images or visible clues remain, what visual languages are available to portray acts of unspeakable, organised violence carried out against a large section of the community in a major modern metropolis?
Located along Europeʼs western edge Swann’s project on Ireland’s Borderlands focuses on issues deeply embedded along the border and now highlighted by
the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union on March 29th next year.
Growing up in Northern Ireland the border was visible to him and instrumental in defining identities, now there is no physical expression of the border, no
watch towers, fences or walls to photograph, it is unseeable, virtual, a psychological construct.
What did intrigue was an Iron Age linear earthworks known locally as the Black Pigs Dykeʼ that lies on the border of Northern Irelandʼs County Fermanagh and
the Republic of Irelandʼs County Monaghan. Itʼs name is referential to the ‘Valley of the Black Pigʼ the mythical site of a Gaelic Armageddon.
This ancient man-made barrier creates a temporal and spatial intersection, interwoven by mythic, historical and geopolitical narratives. The liquidity of myth coupled with the tangible influences of the historical provides a space to imagine, question and interpret the complexities of Irish and European identity.
His exhibition, The Yellow Star Houses of Budapest was shown at the Architectural Association Galleries, London in 2015 , the Irish Architectural
Archives, Dublin in 2017 and again in London in Nov 2017 at the Tate Britain sponsored Urban Photo Festival.
Work from this ongoing enquiry Borderlands has been exhibited at the 2017 Getxo Photo Festival in Spain and at the Belgrade Parobrod Cultural Centre in Serbia during March 2018 and as part of the ‘Reframing the Borderʼ exhibition at the Gallery of Photography Ireland in August 2018.
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