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The Home Front

“… some plots are much more carefully worked than others. These are usually the most advanced, and the surrounding fence, the vine supports and certain large magical structures … display a better finish and are of bigger proportions. Usually these plots will be the first we meet on entering the garden from the village…. They are in a way representative plots as the work on them has to be done with full aesthetic finish and the maximum of perfection.”

Bronisław Malinowski Coral Gardens and their Magic. 1935



In the 1990s, I wrote a paper about Malinowski’s use of photography in his ethnographic fieldwork. My particular line of enquiry traced the influence of photographic practice on early 20th Century anthropological theory. Some twenty years later, living in County Down, I became intrigued by the ways that some people in Ireland design and organise their front gardens which appear to be regarded not so much as functional spaces but more as areas of public display. It reminded me of Malinowski’s description of the ceremonial display function of gardens in Trobriand society, and many of his observations on Coral Gardens could equally apply to the Irish context. Some of the Irish building façades reflect the process of recovery from human disaster makes an interesting contrast with the damage and rebuilding of (another island) Galveston following natural disasters. Irish Home Fronts can become sites of individual and cultural expression, adorned with ornaments that represent the householders’ personal interests. They can suggest a fantasy world where myth and romance feature alongside a nostalgia for an idealised past. In contrast, the dwellings on the island of Galveston reflect the damage and rebuilding following floods and hurricanes. Austere frontages incorporate practical measures for disaster avoidance arising from storm surges. 


The idea behind the comparison arose not so much by design but more to do with the fortunes of personal circumstances of living and working in unfamiliar environments. Consequently the exhibition also questions the scope and limitations of attempting to make a comparison between locations. 

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