The Linen Memorial
This blog post is about an item we were thrilled to accept into our collection in 2020: The Linen Memorial. Read below for some more information about the artist, Lycia Trouton, and the historical inspiration behind her piece.
The Linen Memorial is an alternative history of the Northern Ireland Troubles. There was also a particular connection with linen in the North of Ireland during colonisation – through the economics of flax farming and linen production, trade and global export.
The Memorial is a funerary record in the form of a Names List*, hand-sewn on 400 linen handkerchiefs, of the human lives lost during The Troubles in Northern Ireland; persons are listed chronologically from ALL sides of the political divide, without bias.
Linen is the choice of textile for this project as Northern Ireland has a long-standing connection and interdependence with Irish Linen manufacturing and export. Also, linen has been used for centuries to shroud the dead, and its use here allows us to reflect upon rituals of grief, mourning and, perhaps, reparation.
The Linen Memorial creative project has now spanned over 20 years. It has travelled to multiple countries, and has been installed in art spaces, libraries, churches, community halls and a world-renowned museum in China. The artist created it as an ongoing site-conscious memorial which seeks to re-narrate the almost 4,000 deaths which took place during the fraught period of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
The work is also a contemporary sculpture and architectonic space where viewers can relate to their losses and one another, and where the fabric links us to our emotions and hearts.
Also, it can be seen as an intimate, yet public monument to ‘The Troubles.’ Other artists have dialogued with the work over the years, among these: an original dance-theatre performance, a psycho-acoustic randomised Names List reading, and a seven-channel sonic surround original music composition.
The Troubles, as documented and portrayed in The Linen Memorial, is a piece of history many wish to forget. However, it is important to remember that many lives that were lost, many injuries (both physical and mental) have been sustained by survivors still living in our communities, and that we need to learn from the conflict, so that history does not repeat itself.
‘The dead, far from being gone, remain as a powerful part of the community. How we think about the dead, and the stories we tell about the relationship between the dead and the living, are central to imagining new forms of community and narratives of nationhood…’
(Benedict Anderson 1983:15)
With the support of The Linen Memorial, the artist hopes that the general public may continue to explore their grief and feelings about a possible Shared Future. The artwork has evolved with global audiences at an international level, and provokes thoughts about other difficult conflict zones and attempts at reconciliation.
*The chronological list of the deceased (officially called The Names List) is the result of scholarship which documents the moment of death and a brief biography of each person who died as a result of The Troubles. Trouton had permission to use the Names List from the award-winning monumental tome, a book entitled Lost Lives, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea, 1999.
The artist-producer Lycia Trouton was born in an interface area of Belfast in 1967, and emigrated to Canada in 1970. She conceptualised this heartfelt project in late 1999 after taking her first trip to Belfast as a working adult, as part of an international sculpture and public art exhibition.
In early 2000, upon her return to Canada, Trouton had been so moved by the mid-1990s Peace Processes and, yet, the challenges that traumatised individuals and society in her mother country, Northern Ireland, still faced, that she went about using her sculptural training and conceptual skills to create this non-traditional memorial. The artist said that she wanted it to be a “felt ephemeral” work and a “neutral” mobile peace project, with the anti-violence ethos of “healing-through-remembering”. This is some of the background that led her to produce The Linen Memorial with the help of needleworkers from around the world.
This work was made possible with thanks to funding from
Canada Council for the Arts.
Canadian High Commission, Canberra, ACT
Community Relations Council, Belfast
University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia