|SIMON DENISON IMAGE & TEXT|
THE SWALLOWING TREE
Latent Image Editions, 2014
ISBN 978-0-9928121-0-2 Hb
In 1999 and 2000, a number of largely unsuccessful searches were carried out for the burial sites of the ‘disappeared’, victims of IRA murders during the Northern Irish Troubles – a process recorded in David Farrell’s 2001 book, Innocent Landscapes. In subsequent years Farrell made repeat visits to the search sites; and the photographs from one of these, Coghalstown Wood in Co Meath, are presented in this new book. We see self-seeded trees and other plants gradually obscuring the signs of the search excavations. A simple shrine constructed in 2000 – a prayer card pinned to the bark of a tree, and a string of rosary beads – decays little by little: the image shrinks and curls; beads fall away until only a few remain.
This simple, resonant little book meditates on our relationship with the natural world, our desire to record and remember what is gone and the inevitability that most things will be forgotten. Nature erases our traces and conceals what we wish to find; yet nature also heals and protects. Farrell notes two comforting myths: in one, fictional, it is said that a terrible secret can be safely confessed into a hole in a remote tree which is then sealed up with mud. In the other, historical, a child is passed across a split young tree, a religious image is placed inside and the tree rebound, so that the child’s spirit remains protected within the tree.
In an illuminating endnote, Farrell notes an analogy between landscape as text and photograph. The decaying Coghalstown Wood shrine, gripped by the tree, is a ‘punctum of remembrance’ in a landscape in which the bodies of the disappeared have still not been recovered, just as a photograph can give an astounding but only fragmentary glimpse of past reality and an illusion of the presence of what is irretrievably lost.