Transforming Maze / Long Kesh Conference

Aisling O'Beirn, Martin Krenn

Research output: Other contributionpeer-review

290 Downloads (Pure)


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 (in print/issue) - 15 Mar 2017


  • conference
  • Maze Long Kesh Prison
  • Contentious Cultural Heritage


Dive into the research topics of 'Transforming Maze / Long Kesh Conference'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this