26 Treasures in Belfast

I’m not from these parts. I grew up and have lived mostly across the water. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Belfast over these past 8 years, it’s that there’s creativity in abundance. It’s hard to walk down a street without tripping over a bit. Carelessly disgarded by some passing artist; bag over-flowing with creativeness. It’s all over the place. Seriously. It’s not uncommon to pop out for a stroll through town only to be side-tracked by an exhibition or event you didn’t know was on.

OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but that is how it feels sometimes. Just this evening I was at a book club and someone joked what a relief it was when there WASN’T a festival on. It’s true. It feels like nearly every other week there’s the Festival of This or That on. An ordinary Sunday afternoon in the park turns out to be a bags-of-fun day at the carnival, complete with local musicians, artists, poets.

Could there possibly be a better place for a leg of 26 Treasures?

Last Friday, 26TNI participants and guests assembled at the Ulster Museum for the opening of their remarkable achievement: 26 written pieces by 26 writers, each responding to their given artifact. And, unique to this province, 26 artists/designers/photographers, created their own visual response to those words.

What we read and saw was (pardon the cliché) a creative smörgåsbord. The diversity of writings matched and supported by a surprising array of imagery and installations. In both words and visuals, the tender and gentle traditional rubbed shoulders with the new-fangled and contemporary.

So we read about toe nail clippings and shriveled skin and peaked inside a box to see them animated on a hidden digital display. We read a kindly father’s comfort and walked into a wooden frame arrangement holding paintings that made you feel dead. Another response took the form of a song, performed and recorded especially for the event. For still another: an aching lamentation is accompanied by a stags skull festooned with peacock feathers.

Brought together, the results are a testament to the region’s wordsmiths and visualists. And make a unique and exciting diversion for those hungry for a taste of locally grown and nurtured inspiration. Richard Weston

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