Lycia Danielle Trouton | Sculptor

'Waters of Life'                  The Waterworks
post-conflict Belfast

Lycia Trouton, site-sculptor

for Horsehead with 'Survivors of Trauma' & 'interface' neighbourhood youth, Funded by British Columbia Arts Council  July 1999. 


'Waters of Life' Land Art and Public Art Event Statement

The stairway and adjacent slopes act as a link between two old reservoirs which once provided water for The City of Belfast. Hence, the name of the park: Waterworks.

Swans and other waterfowl inhabit the area. The Waterworks is located in an ‘interface’ area - a politically sensitive neighbourhood off the Antrim Road - in North Belfast, Northern Ireland.

North Belfast experienced a high degree of violence and urban migration, due to the increased segregation of people-of-perceived-political-differences (Protestants/Loyalists and Catholics/Republicans), during Northern Ireland’s Troubles, 1969 - 1998. This is the area in which my maternal grandparents and great aunt lived from 1945 until their natural deaths in the mid-1980s. Terrifying violence was a part of ‘normal’ life in areas of Belfast during the 1970s and 80s. I also lived in this area with my parents and sister until we immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, 1970 (I was aged 3 years old).

Thus, the ‘Waters-of-Life’ was a short-term, low-budget outdoor art installation created from 1) cutting repeated horizontal zig-zags into the grassy slope of either side of the steps of the embankment to symbolise the universal healing power of water; 2) the concrete stairwell itself was painted in a gradation of blue and green to reference the metaphor of ‘water’; 3) words were painted on the stair risers. These words on the upper and lower risers were taken from mythological places of paradise:

  • Shambala, The Heavens, Elysium, Eden, Paradise, Shangri-La Utopia, Avalon, Nirvana, Hesperides, Valhalla, Lemuria

These are the various names of fictional utopian lands. I wanted to produce a sense of wonderment in the viewer’s minds (young and elderly people who frequented the park). I wished that people might ask themselves, “ Why does the grass always seem greener ‘over the hill/over the rainbow’ or why do people seem so extremely different on the other side of the political divide?”…Another question the artwork might pose was “What exactly is the nature of contentment or a peaceful state of mind, our idea of Paradise?”

By posing questions about paradise, I was asking visitors to the park to consider a future of their own imagining and to think less superficially and/or concretely about people or places immediately in front of them. For example, I could not bring myself to directly answer various children’s questions upon meeting me: The question of ‘What street are you from in North Belfast, miss?’ is almost an ordinary greeting in Belfast. Instead, through the artwork, I challenged them to ask different or more imaginative questions to strangers.

The words on the middle risers were from a quote by a well-known Irish community activist, Stanislaus Kennedy, ‘We return home as a drop of water returns as rain to the sea from which it was born.’ These words are based on the theme of water.

As a person climbs the stairs, they could be actively engaged in being reminded of their inter-connectedness with each other and all of nature in a beautiful park setting.

My hope with the text was a message of hope for the interface community(ies) about an expanded notion of identity, such as ‘Who am I?’ in relation to one’s surroundings.

The stairwell beckons us to ascend/descend and to contemplate the thought, ‘Where is my life is going?’; we are each on individual journeys which intersect with one another and the environment around us.