Bláithín Mac Donnell

you could fit an SUV into the souterrain (2021)

In the centre of the room, there was this wall. Well, I guess it was more of a painting than a wall. They described it as some sort of modern-day fresco but instead of painting directly onto wet plaster, the artist had just painted it straight onto a sheet of plasterboard. They had wanted to knock down the wall but when they tried to move the painting the plasterboard started to crack and pieces of it started to crumble away so they just had to leave it there. They knocked down the walls around it and left the section with the painting.

So you just have this section of wall in the middle of the room exactly the width of the painting with nothing around it. It’s not quite centred, it’s slightly to the left of the middle of the room.

The painting is of a ringfort on a hill by the sea. They actually discovered one recently, well it wasn’t actually a new discovery. The ringfort had been part of a farm for years but hadn’t been open to the public before. I’m not sure if its the same one as the one in the painting, but it’s on a hill near the sea. No one is exactly sure of what ringforts were used for, they’re made of stone and they look like a wall but they are completely round. There’s generally a stone along the outside of it which juts out so you can climb inside or a little gap you can walk through. Inside there are more circular sections of stone walls, like circular walls within a bigger circle. They’re mostly described as circular fortified settlements which were built during the Early Middle Ages about the year 1000. Mostly they are understood to have been dispersed farmsteads but were also used as a defence structure providing protection to small communities and their cattle. The reason they were round was that the circular shape offered broad perspectives of approaching attackers but archaeologists still differ about their uses. When we went to see it we pulled into this viewing area on the side of the road, it was sort of like a layby. This man came over and asked if we would like to see the ringfort, he started describing it, its history and then he showed us a drone image of it. The image was printed on a mousemat. I don’t know if he had been using it as an actual mousemat or it was some sort of promotional material, like he got it free with business cards or it was a prototype for merchandise. So to get to the ringfort you walk up this slope which is cut into the side of the hill and in one section there’s a shipping container buried into the side of it. It’s almost like he dug a section of the hill out, scooped it out and then pushed the container back into the empty space and continued the path up and over it. But before we went up he kept saying that we should go into the souterrain. Souterrain is actually a French word, they’re these underground chambers that were dug out and then lined with stone slabs or wood before they were covered over with earth again so they wouldn’t be seen. It’s believed, well it’s understand that they were used to store food or as a place to hide during attacks. He kept saying that you could fit an SUV into the souterrain, that you could park an SUV in there and you’d still have space. I’m not sure if he had actually parked his jeep in there, like that’s how he knew you could fit an SUV in it and maybe that’s why it’s been closed all these years.

It was around the time they discovered the ringfort that the truck crashed. It went straight down the main street. The main street is actually modelled on the Champs-Élysées. They took actual cuttings from the trees on the Champs-Élysées and planted them on this street so the layout is exactly the same but the buildings are different. The truck was at the top of the street which is on a slight hill. It’s not really that noticeable that it’s steep, in the sense that if you ran down it you wouldn’t fall but running up it is really difficult. Anyway, the truck was at the top and being loaded with glass bottles when it started to roll. It went straight down the hill and into the supermarket, it ran straight over the postbox and crashed into the wall of the supermarket next to this huge glass window. But it isn’t really a window because it doesn’t open, it’s this huge section of glass where you can see into the supermarket. The truck crashed just to the left of that glass. It was really strange because the glass didn’t break, the post box was completely flattened into the ground. All the post was pressed into the ground so it almost looked like it was part of the pavement but the window just seemed to bend and stretch to the pressure. For days afterwards, you could see faint outlines of postcards, writing and stamps, it was almost like they were part of the ground. The same thing happened when my housemate spilt the paint on the carpet but instead of cleaning it up she just covered it in magazines and taped them to the carpet using fragile tape so no one would step on the paint. When we tried to peel the magazines off they had dried into the carpet with the paint. So much so that the carpet almost looked like the text and images were part of it, they were so embedded into the fabric.

Now you wouldn’t know anything had happened except for this square section of concrete where the post box used to be, it’s a different colour from the rest of the street. They filled it in with tarmac. So you have this patch of tarmac inserted into this concrete path but the same pane of glass is still there.

About this work

A story that takes the reader on a dizzying circular narrative.

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