Transforming Maze / Long Kesh Conference

Aisling O'Beirn, Martin Krenn

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Transforming Maze / Long Kesh was a one-day conference about the challenges of dealing with contentious heritage, with focus on the former prison Maze / Long Kesh. The conference addresses the possibilities Arts and Architecture can offer to productive debate and new forms of engagement with such a site. Local and International speakers will discuss artistic, archaeological and ethnographic approaches from a broader perspective that could be used to investigate contentious heritage such as the Maze / Long Kesh site.

The conference and the art project concerning the Maze / Long Kesh site, are both part of TRACES (Transforming Contentious Cultural Heritage Through the Arts), a three-year research project funded in 2016 by the European Commission as part of Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation.

With thanks to Development Arts and Culture, Ulster University

‘Transforming Long Kesh/Maze’ is a collaborative social sculpture exploring the future of the Maze/Long Kesh site beyond its current state of limbo, that Belfast based artist Aisling O’Beirn and I developed together. The former prison located outside Belfast, is internationally known for jailing most of the political prisoners, both republican and loyalist, during the recent period of conflict in Northern Ireland.

The former prison site has both a physical presence and conceptual importance. There is currently no access to the site for the general public, this even includes artists like us. Although we wrote several applications to the authorities to visit the site we got no response which is telling. Given this, Krenn and O’Beirn interested in how one can think beyond the site’s legacy and to its future. As a result, they developed a project based on work with individuals and community museums who have had first-hand experience of the prison, such as ex-prisoners, former visitors and prison staff to collaboratively photograph existing prison artefacts and to record their personal statements related to the objects. Additionally, they co-created unique small sculptural objects with some of the participants. Techniques for creating the new objects include methods traditionally used for making prison art. The result was an exhibition of the newly created objects, a travelling exhibition of postcards and an artist book, launching next month.

Much of the early part of the project was spent developing dialogical methods for working with participants who had a first-hand experience of the site as well as making contacts with potential participants across the political spectrum. In the course of an intense year of initial research, they took a lead from archaeologist Laura McAtackney’s work on the material culture of the prison, most especially her concept of the “distributed self” (2014, 244-265). This allowed them to consider the inaccessible prison’s presence beyond its physical architectural manifestation. In conversations with McAtackney, they found similarities between her practice as an archaeologist their our own practice as artists both concerned with the relationship between materiality and testimony.

The international conference , ‘Transforming Maze / Long Kesh’ was organised by the artists as a project kick off, which took place the MAC Belfast in March 2017. The conference addressed the local political context of the prison as well as ways people have engaged internationally with difficult or contentious heritages. Up until the point of the conference there were no confirmed project participants. The conference set out to situate this localised situation in an international context and attracted a wide ranging audience where discussion and discourse were integral to the proceedings. In openly discussing the possibilities of agonistic approaches to contested cultural heritages the conference directly lead to many participants, who were in the audience, confirming their participation.
Original languageEnglish
TypeProgramme9:30 am Registration Part 1 – AGONISM AND COLLABORATION 10:00 am | “TRACES: An Agonistic Approach to Contentious Cultural Heritage”, Marion Hamm, Klaus Schönberger 11:00 am | Questions, comments11.10 am – 11.20 am | BREAK Part 2 – MAZE...
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts. From Intervention to Co-production
TRACES is a three year research project funded in 2016 by the European Commission within the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme. Through an innovative research methodology, TRACES investigates the challenges and opportunities inherent in transmitting awkward pasts in contemporary Europe. Contentious heritage is often particularly difficult to convey to the public and can impede inclusivity and convivial relations. Nevertheless, if transmitted sensitively, it can contribute to a process of reflexive Europeanisation, in which the European imagination is shaped by self- awareness, on-going critical reflection and dialogue across different positions.
Involving a multi-disciplinary team, which brings together established and emerging scholars, artists and cultural workers, TRACES will develop a rigorous and creative investigation on a range of contentious cultural heritages. To do so, it sets up a series of Creative Co-Productions in which artists, researchers, heritage agencies, and stakeholders work together in longer term engagements, to collaboratively research selected cases of contentious heritage and develop new participatory public interfaces. These art-based research actions will be supported and complemented by theoretical investigations, analysing and expanding their outcomes.
TRACES main goal is to identify new directions for cultural institutions and museums, aimed at effectively transmitting contentious cultural heritage and productively contributing to evolving European identities.

Abstract: TRACES is a three year research project funded in 2016 by the European Commission within the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme. Through an innovative research methodology based on an experimental in- depth artistic/ethnographic approach, TRACES focuses on the challenges and opportunities inherent in transmitting contentious cultural heritages in contemporary Europe. Involving a multi-disciplinary team, which brings together established and emerging scholars, artists and cultural workers, TRACES develops rigorous and creative investigations on a range of contentious cultural heritages. To do so, it sets up a series of art-based research actions supported and complemented by theoretical investigations, in order to eventually identify new directions for cultural institutions and museums, to effectively transmit contentious cultural heritage and productively contribute to evolving European identities.
Project Duration: March 2016-February 2019 (3 years)
Project Coordinator: Prof. Klaus Schönberger, Universitaet Klagenfurt, Austria.
Funding scheme: European Union Horizon 2020. SOCIETAL CHALLENGES - Europe In A Changing World - Inclusive, Innovative And Reflective Societies. Reflective 2: Emergence and transmission of European cultural heritage and Newcastle University Europeanisation.
EU contribution: 2.303.858,75 – Grant Agreement 693857

TRACES Research Fields
TRACES is structured around five experimental Creative Co-Productions, supported and complemented by theoretical and empirical investigations pertaining to five main research fields:
Artistic Research: Creative Co-Production Beyond Intervention develops and analyses participatory methods and models of innovative contemporary creative collaborations between artists, researchers, heritage agencies, and their stakeholders.
Ethnographic Research on/with Art Production critically examines the collaborative processes between art and research also in relation to challenges posed by the post- colonial legacy of museums’ collections.
Research on Education and Stakeholder Involvement investigates learning and exhibiting contentious cultural heritage in Europe, in order to identify ways in which educational settings can provide spaces of conflict and negotiation.
Performing Heritage: Creative Everyday Practices in Popular Culture conducts ethnographic fieldwork into contentious heritages with a focus on intangible heritage. As the theoretical backbone of the project, it evaluates, contextualises and brings together practical and theoretical results from TRACES investigations for public use.
Contentious Collections: Research on Material Culture of Difficult Cultural Heritage undertakes comparative and contextual analysis in order to identify the particular challenges and potential involved in transmitting contentious cultural heritage and to identify new ways of mediating difficult collections.

TRACES Creative Co-Productions
Team: Julie Dawson, Anda Reuben, Razvan Anton. Partner/Host: NGO Hosman Durabil. Other institutions/partners: Mediaș Synagogue.
Team: Erika Lehrer, Roma Sendyka, Wojciech Wilczyk, Magdalena Zych. Partner/Host: Centre for Memory Studies/Jagiellonian University.
CASTING OF DEATH | Ljubljana, Slovenia
Team: Alenka Pirman, Jani Pirnat. Partner/Host: Domestic Research Society. Other institutions/partners: The National and University Library, the Moderna Galerija Ljubljana, the National Museum of Contemporary History.
DEAD IMAGES | Vienna, Austria - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Team: Tal Adler, Linda Fibiger, John Harries, Joan Smith, Anna Szoeke, Maria Teschler- Nicola. Partners/Hosts: University of Edinburgh, Natural History Museum, Vienna.
TRANSFORMING LONG KESH/MAZE PRISON | Belfast, Northern Ireland Team: Martin Krenn, Aisling O’Beirn. Partner/Host: Ulster University.

TRACES Partners
Universitaet Klagenfurt – Institute for Cultural Analysis (A) Klaus Schönberger
(Project Coordinator), Marion Hamm, Gisela Hagmair, UNIKUM
Politecnico di Milano – Department of Architecture and Urban Studies (IT) Luca Basso Peressut, Francesca Lanz with Suzana Milevska
Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin – Institute of European Ethnology (DE) Sharon Macdonald, Tal Adler, Regina Römhild, Anna Szöke
Universitetet I Oslo – Department of Social Anthropology (NO) Arnd Schneider, Leone Contini
Zürcher Hochschule der Künste – Institute for Art Education (CH) Carmen Mörsch, Nora Landkammer, Karin Schneider
Hosman Durabil (RO) Julie Dawson, Anton Razvan, Anda Reuben
Naturhistorisches Museum – Department of Anthropology (A) Maria Teschler-
The University of Edinburgh – Social Anthropology, Archaeology and the Edinburgh College of Art (UK) John Harries, Linda Fibiger, Joan Smith
Uniwersytet Jagiellonski – Research Centre for Memory Cultures (PL) Roma Sendyka, Erica Lehrer, Wojtech Wilczyk, Magdalena Zych
University of Ulster – Research Institute for Art and Design (UK) Aisling O’Beirn, Martin Krenn
Društvo za domače raziskave (SLO) Alenka Pirman, Jani Pirnat.


  • conference
  • Maze Long Kesh Prison
  • Contentious Cultural Heritage


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