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Transforming shared experiences of infant loss, to empowered healing spaces through virtual reality

In the second talk of the Heritage and Technology series, Artist Joe Duffy shares the Cillini sites in Ireland, exploring the use of VR and shared experiences of infant loss in order to transform them into empowered healing spaces. Listen to what Joe had to say here:

Speaker transcription*:


Keith Myers, Joe Duffy.

Keith Myers

So good evening, everyone. This is Keith Meyers interviewing Joe Duffy. For our tech event online events, heritage and technology, how can bring history to audiences? I'm sat with Joe Duffy. Joe, could you just tell me about who you are and what your position is? First of all, please.

Okay. And hello, everyone as well. My name is Joe Duffy. And I'm a senior lecturer of filmmaking at Manchester School of Art in Solon, which is the new school of digital arts. And yeah, my work is very much as a teaching filmmaking, different types of filmmaking, but also as a filmmaking practitioner, myself working with moving image quite often working with locative media and emerging technologies. And we have an interest in analogue and material processes, but also new kinds of emerging digital processes as well. So very much a filmmaker exploring place, and landscape and the kind of stories that are embedded within those locations. So yeah, I guess that's where I'm coming from. And a large part of my work is spent in university dealing with international projects and international. So I'm very much interested in different places around the world, cultural places, and their relationship to us and the stories that they connect us to as well. So yeah, that's kind of where I'm coming from Keith.

Keith Myers

Ryan, and obviously, the the talk that we're doing this evening is around technology and heritage. And we're here really to hear about your project. Could you tell me first of all, what what is a Collini? The audience wouldn't know. And I think they'd be intrigued to find out what what this word means? And also just why you're interested in that as well.

Yeah, thanks. It's, it's, it's, it is a really, really interesting subject area, and quite often is a fairly kind of stigma, taboo kind of area, because it deals with death. And it deals with the death of children on Christian children. So the cleaning sites are basically children's burial grounds. And there are literally 1000s of them across Ireland 1000s that have been documented and many more 1000s that have not been documented. So generally, what happened from around the sort of 1650s up until around the 1960s was that children who died before they were Christians were tainted with original sin. And they couldn't be buried on consecrated ground. So they were in limbo, basically, they were left in Purgatory. And it wasn't until after the 1960s, that was changes from the Vatican about who could be buried on consecrated grounds. And that sort of changed a lot to do with like how the cleanings are structured. So basically, pretty much every rural village, particularly in the west of Ireland, where a lot of cleaning sites are populated and can be found. Pretty much every village has one or two cleaning sites, because islands up until the 1960s, we still had a lot of people living in rural areas in quite detached from hospital locations. You know, there was a lot of rural poverty. And a lot of because of, you know, the religious beliefs and so on their families would have would be quite large basically say hello children. And infant mortality would be quite high. So it was quite common, you know, at least every one or two families would have an infant loss before they were christened. So, so generally what happened would be that the babies were buried in what would normally be RNase ring forts, or rafts, or next to particular types of trees, which we'll call fairy trees that we often found in the middle of a field. So the babies were buried in these sites, because in one sense, they're seen as sites that were very much liminal sites, sites that were associated with fairies and belief in Fairy kind of afterlife, and so on. So the children are buried in these places, which were known locally, and still are actually in many rural areas, very forts. And it's very Trieste. So the, the whole notion of the cleaning, was that these children were buried in these kind of taboo spaces. Where if that, basically is for the fairies to look after them to give them an afterlife, because they're left to wander in limbo in a Catholic world, basically. So as a sense of, you know, for families, that children will be looked after, rather than just wandering around. And this idea, you know, must be quite torment in if you were very religious, and that you believed in heaven, that you would if you went to heaven, that you would not meet your child. So, you know, I think that the trauma of the sites, the trauma of those religious doctrines, is really quite excessive actually. I think also, you know, this, the sites that we were buried in a lot of very true places and are very forced to cleanly own age reinforce. We're kind of no go spaces, because we've seen as we're fairies lifts, and if you went into those spaces, you will be cursed.

Keith Myers

Why particularly Are you interested in playing is I mean, why, what, what draws you to there? And, you know, obviously, your surname is Duffy, I didn't know, but your heritage, but can you tell us a little bit about your process and how you create work and maybe show some of your responses to this concept?

Yeah, sure. I mean, it's just to kind of put a little bit of context as well, as a kid, we used to go into fairy force all the time. And, or grandmother used to tell us, you know, we would get cursed by fairies and not to go in. So we just go in messing around, you know, and pretend that we've broken branches and come home and freak or grandmother out, who, you know, is terrified to open instance, places. And I guess for me, it was only later on, when I kind of developed an interest in storytelling around places and looking at how narratives are embedded within kind of location, that I kind of began to investigate these places and look at the history, look at the research around them, and begin to understand that actually, this is these places where, you know, have a particular kind of purpose for communities, communities, and that didn't necessarily want to talk about, and it was only through that, you know, I realised that my own relatives were buried in. And that kind of structure really struck a chord and, and kind of made me investigate, you know, a lot further as well, to kind of bring these areas out to public knowledge. And I think that's kind of part of it is and sort of dealing with spaces that were kind of hidden away to kind of bring them to light. And to kind of look at these spaces, which if if generations kind of go in, if you get those places, they'll just get bulldozed. And that history will be recognised. Because when you go into these spaces, there's no recognition that it's where children are buried. Each grave store is just a market or a no names, physical persons, techniques, facts, and I guess one of them really, was about trying to map locations, and trying to find a kind of a particular process that enabled me to, to find these Kleenex sites. And one location for this was using the Irish archaeological database. So they, the Irish rock political database is fantastic for finding some of these sites. So the National Monument service, it has an interactive map search facility on there. And you know, it's probably known as the science of monuments record SMR. So I've added a link there, if anyone wants to copy it down who you know, so if you are in a new these areas in Ireland, or if you do go to, at some point, maybe, you know, look at the archaeological database to see what's in your region, because you'll probably find some really, really interesting sites. And again, what's actually enabling this kind of interactive map to actually take place is people like ourselves, you know, local people kind of informing the Archaeological Survey of islands, to database basically, that we're new sites. So do a 1000s and 1000s of sites documented on here, but there are many, many 1000s more that are not. And it's really interesting to kind of investigate that. So what we did was, as part of a small team to kind of research these different locations as well, and use a lot of satellite imagery. So I guess, a way of remote sensing and using space archaeology, as they say, and using Google Earth as well. And zooming into locations where zooming into a map where I could see, reinforce and see particular features that weren't on the Irish critical database, or in some cases, I'd look at Iron Age reinforce on a database that weren't listed as children's burial grounds, and use Google image and to search closer to them to actually see any features, and then go in person to actually visit these places. So it's very much a process of looking through space archaeology, remote sensing, particularly databases, and then local knowledge as well, going on foot, knocking on doors, asking people to knew about particular sites. And again, if we could go and visit particular sites that might be on their land as well. So it's a combination of strategies, basically, from satellite imagery, local knowledge, oral history, database inquiries, Google Maps, basically just getting on your foot, getting on foot and going across, you know, climbing over fences and yeah, being out in the landscape, really. So there are a few images on here to give a sense of that process. Just before we continue.

Keith Myers

Just going back See, I think the audience might be really interested in what constitutes a cleaning, because obviously, if we go back to the map of Ireland, he had a moment ago. Yeah. And just a quick run on that. I mean, any idea, the numbers, we're talking about the magnitude of these sites? How many were talking to you? Do you have any idea?

Yeah, I mean, literally, at least it was I've been document, it's probably about two and a half 1000s. Ones that haven't been documented, it's documented, it would be maybe two, three or four times higher than that. Yeah, it's, and that's just literally just in the west of islands, I was really interested in using drones to capture sort of different perspectives of cleaning sites. And particularly for some locations that were really hard to kind of get to that might have been across all like more bulky terrain, or, you know, accessing spaces that were just very, very difficult physically to kind of, you know, to connect with. So on the other side, as well as using a drone was really useful for select that distance. So to be able to kind of capture places that physically weren't possible, and against London drone within these spaces, and to kind of, you know, look at the terrain. The other side, of course, then was to, in many cases, was actually visiting places physically, and then bringing the drone to actually document them and sort of aesthetically sort of, explored him as an artist, a filmmaker, I'm very much interested in shapes and geometry, and patterns as well. So the aesthetics of landscape. And quite often these places, you know, really beautiful, really beautiful places that, you know, the actual context of them is very harrowing. But there's also a beauty about many of these places as well. And using the drone was fantastic to kind of get those different perspectives and get a sense of these markers within the landscape as well. So as we've been able to map out, within the landscape, where these different kinds of locations were, the patterns, they created a landscape as well, and how they would have played, you know, they would have been very ritualistic at one point, particularly for the process of going in and out of, you know, decides to, to bury children. Okay, so, yeah, this is the lament, and it's about six minutes long. So again, the link will be there for everyone who wants to watch it in its entirety. And this also, the soundtrack of this is really quite significant because this, the space is in a very sort of gendered women were excluded from going into these spaces in terms of burying their own children. It was generally the menfolk that will take the babies and bury them. So yeah, there's a lot there's a lot of issues around women's rights and patriarchal religious society as well. So, and again, you know, the stigma because up until a certain point, or fairly recently in Ireland, there was a lot of issues around Constitution as well and women's rights and I think in rural areas, there's a lot of stigma as well around you know, having a child that was born stillborn or wasn't christened or wasn't in heaven and so on. So the perfect soundtrack for this is a keen and it's taken from Katie Gallagher keen for a dead child, which is the last known recording of a keen and a keen is, it's an Irish funeral song, which is very discordant Irish singing, which is about channelling grief and open so, so late 1800s It was quite common to have someone keen a funeral until unfortunately, you know, sort of a patriarchal kind of priesthood decided to kind of do away with that, because they saw it as taking attention away from priests and they saw it as too pagan as well. So, so for this piece of work is for me, it was quite important to kind of bring back a keen and explore the relationship of you know, this is a gendered space and relationships or exclusion. And the reality that, you know, these places need to be kind of shared and included. So, yeah, just put this link on very briefly. So again, people can look at the whole film later, to sort of do some Tuesday.

So yeah, just I start sharing. So it gives you a sense of peace itself, and the emotional intensity of it as well. So it's, yeah, it's, it's quite a harrowing soundtrack, because again, it's, it signifies loss, and some are channelling that grief as well. So there's something quite positive about that, again, intention of bringing the space to light was about helping to conserve these places. And I think using these different tools and the technology and using the drones as well actually enables to access places which have been kind of hidden, buried away, maybe forgotten about actually are lost. And we use, we filmed 20 locations, sort of maps these particular sites, and then we began to explore virtual reality technology. And I chose 360 cameras to place again to sort of refer to look at how these places which in their own, in their own reality feel very, very closed off feel very separate from the reality that we kind of exist in on day to day, these spaces will be turned into immersive installations where people can sit down, put the headset on, and sit and navigate a space like this, while I hear the soundtrack from space diegetic sound well, then you'll hear stories on the headset, connecting them to different experiences of people from different parts of the world, talking about their own experience of infant mortality, their own, you know, how they handle the experience grief. So yeah, there is that people aren't on the road, because again, it is a very harrowing experience to lose a child. So yeah, so these spaces as you can see, just me moving around, a very closed off. You can see trees fall down, no one does anything to them. They are quite often own age reports that would have been settlements at one point a long, long time ago. And maybe you know from the 1600s might well have been used livable settlements. Until Cromwellian times, so and then you can see the very, very closed off to trees, kind of cover them. And you can you can quite often I mean, I'm at the stage now where quite often tell one of the children's burial grounds because of the cluster of trees and the formation and getting the drone out, you know, can kind of get a real sense of that as well.

Keith Myers

How can people get in touch with you if you want to find out more about the project or interested in collaborating on research in the future?

Yeah, sure. If anyone wants to catch up with me or ask any questions, my email address is j dot O. Duffy at MMU. ac.uk. You know, because it's we're very interested in working with people who want to explore storytelling and place we want to explore, you know, how we can tell stories using technology and the fact you know, we have these amazing tools at our disposal, as you know, as filmmakers, storytellers, artists, you know, as creative practitioners that are really kind of changed the landscape that you know, we live in. So yeah, the fact we've got you know, as amazed technology's just using, you know, sort of internet kind of surfaces, and, you know, sites and databases to drones and VR. And the fact that you know, is becoming much more accessible, using, you know, sort of LIDAR as well to kind of examine these spaces and kind of reengage with the narratives that are embedded within them, and immersed inside them to kind of bring those to new audiences basically. And I think that's the real interesting thing is kind of, we have so much history around us that's buried away, that has been hidden for various ideological reasons. That now is a time where we're actually much more independent and free from any of those constraints and able to kind of remap those space isn't able to actually tell, you know, different narratives and stories that actually exist within our space. And so very much we're rewriting the past, you know, or the the ideological kind of approaches the past that have been handed down to us. So yeah, the technologies like this are really kind of freeing us to actually see the stories that have been hidden away, actually.

Keith Myers

Perfect. Well, thanks very much, Joe, a pleasure to listen to you talk about this amazing project, and best of luck in the future with

it. Cool. Thanks, Keith. And thanks for having me this evening. And yeah, thanks, everyone, for tuning in. And I hope you enjoy the rest of this event. So thanks a lot, Keith. And thanks, everyone.

*Transcribed by AI technology so may not be 100% accurate.