CALAIS – AUGUST 18-19
This week – exactly one year since Art Refuge UK’s first visit to the Calais refugee camp – we introduced the process of Cyanotype into our project. This is the name for the cheap, adaptable, early photographic process commonly known as a Blueprint and used for making photograms as well precise copies of drawings, and animate and inanimate objects. Two non-toxic chemicals are mixed together with water at which point they become photosensitive; the liquid is painted in a dark space onto any porous surface, including paper, and when dry, a composition is arranged onto the surface which is then exposed by sun and washed out by water.
We wanted to introduce this technique into our work in the context of the camp being threatened with closure and our desire to support the process of recording some of the objects found over the past twelve months. Also an opportunity to return to the growing collection of plasticine figures which lend themselves readily to the sun print process. For this reason the team of Anna Kalin and Bobby Lloyd was joined by artist Miriam Nabarro as she uses the process in her practice and has worked over many years in the context of creative psychosocial work in countries such as Sudan and Eritrea, and from which many of those who use our spaces come from.
This medium is quick and accessible and offers possibility for a visual alchemical transformation. It also needs to be carefully handled not only because you have to be attuned to the strength of the sun but also because it can be a potent medium in its capacity to capture shadows and reveal the unexpected. In bright sunshine the speed required in placing objects allows people not to become overwhelmed while the emerging of the image and the unexpected gently slows the process down.
On Thursday we were welcomed by MSF into the new CAMIE shared space for unaccompanied minors and our responsiveness to adapting our weekly offer to the changing needs of the camp was appreciated, along with the specific skills we bring into the mix. Reports in the press over the past two weeks about the numbers of unaccompanied minors in the camp are not an exaggeration and the significant issues around child protection are still unresolved and at a critical level.
This was our second week there and the cyanotypes leant themselves to introducing us to those young people we haven’t met previously. We worked outside with around 25 boys aged 10-17. We were able to peg the work up on the new fence as it was being constructed. Several teenagers said they felt safe in this new designated space, and with us made photograms of their own significant objects – mobile phone, hat, sunglasses. Many also communicated their anxieties of being separated from their families. For some the potential making of handprints felt too close to their experiences with the authorities while for others it felt playful and seemed to be literally grounding.
That evening we heard about the fire that last Saturday night had destroyed the Sudanese art school that sat in the landscape next to the Medecins du Monde psychosocial tent. We dropped by to share our condolences and watch as tents were erected in this space to replace the lost school and accommodation for its workers.
Today – Friday – we worked from the psychosocial tent, setting up the Cyanotype studio outside. Because the afternoon was cloudy we could paradoxically encourage people to add to their image over several minutes, allowing for narratives to develop alongside moments of absorption and reflection. Images were built up in layers and the moments of rain brought additional surprises.
A poet and artist from Pakistan spent the afternoon with us, first only confident to build upon another person’s image, and later returning to compose a peaceful garden of his own with flowers, person, peacock, pets – his own garden at home, which has since been destroyed. Simultaneously, the CRS riot police had gathered in large numbers to evict the art school residents from the space next door that had been their home over the past year.