Over the two days, we struggled to get a sense of perspective. This was mirrored by our attempts to photograph the individual and collective artworks made, and finding that the view from above in each of the four settings allowed for a helpful frame of reference.
DUNKERQUE – THURSDAY On entering the camp we were confronted by a new locked gate. All refugees are required to wear a coloured bracelet, with the camp’s name stamped on it, so as to get in and out of the camp. No unregistered people are allowed in, including volunteers and official charity workers. This new tagging system creates a prison-like atmosphere.
During the afternoon 40 men and children used the space which demanded our full attention. Each of us engaged in in-depth conversations with individuals, covering such topics as country borders, mapping and brain-wiring; sex, atheism and political activism.
The children meanwhile wove in and out of the space, gathering flowers, drawing houses, becoming mini investigators.
Above all there was an overriding sense of dissonance and disturbance in the camp which those using the space struggled to counteract through conversation, philosophy. One young man spoke of wanting to make films about the refugee experience. From several we picked up on a desperate attempt to refuse the role of victim.
CALAIS – FRIDAY The previous night we read that the mayor of Calais is banning all distribution of food to migrants in her town and that this is not an attempt to be ‘in humane’.
HOSTEL We were relieved to be greeted with flexibility and warmth by the hostel staff who allowed us to visit outside the new visiting hours. We were also greeted by our Sudanese friend in better physical health and spirits than he has been for many months, while we conducted a mini art group around the bed with two other men. The spirits were such that there was a playful conversation about ways to get across the English Channel – flights of fancy from hot-air balloons, to rubber dinghies, kites, two-seater planes, tunnels as inspired originally by Napoleon, and walking.
DAY CENTRE We entered a steamy room of numerous teenage boys and young men, bodies sweaty and damp from nights outside, the heating on and huge portions of hot food being consumed. The fractured afternoon was backdropped by hearing that these exhausted young people had spent last night running from police who were tear- gassing them in their sleeping bags and brutally beating them. It was testament to their resilience that they managed to engage in periods of absorption at all, some producing exquisite objects that contributed to a rich and eclectic landscape across the tables.
SAFE HOUSE The day ended with a calmer group where care is present and a night’s sleep is possible. A somewhat dystopian but imaginative world was made and then cleared from the table to allow for dinner to be prepared.