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Art Refuge returned last week for our monthly workshop with Secours Catholique in Paris

‘The weather was unusually warm for February, and flowers were coming out on the winter cherry trees in the Cèdre courtyard. Around the centre, there seemed less activity than last time, leading us to wonder if people have been cleared away from the busy intersection. An MSF van with several tents was set up on the bridge by the périphérique. Nearby, people were selling shoes and clothes on sheets spread out on the pavement.

At the Cèdre, we set up in a new place to be more visible. (A drama workshop was also on offer in an adjoining room.) We had printed up a series of archetypal objects and landscapes and maps from Mars onto transparent paper to use with the overhead projector, and had also bought a little speaker and the slide viewers.

Some people immediately recognised us from the last time, and came to show their photos. One man arrived, very disorientated, who enjoyed looking at slides of Notre Dame and the gargoyles, but was bemused by abstract images. He made a simple slide by cutting out some pre-printed blue paper and the result was astonishing. Discussions were had about what it might represent: an aeroplane water, space, a cross… He afterwards stayed at the table, looking at slides and showing his work to other people.

A landscape of a road leading to a horizon was used as a backdrop, one participant said it made him think of Mali (“there I see the cliffs, there I see a dog…”) Another young man was very inspired by the photos of Mars, and the maps (“there are no countries there”) He said he would like to go to Mars on a mission. We talked about time and space. How long does it take to get to Mars? “Seven months”, he said, “but it is very dangerous…” Together we made a little animated film of an astronaut floating across the lunar landscape.

Another man did a picture based on a 14th century Persian picture of a king, and started to place it on the screen with other objects – a kettle, a house - to make a collage. Different people offered points of view on what the king might need: music to go with the scene, natural and cultural elements (animals, objects) We added cut-outs - of fruit, a dagger, an “homme des bois”, a porcupine, a monkey, plants, birds, a gorilla - to make a collage like composition. By this time it was clearly a collective creation.

The cut-outs were adjusted by the group and put into place by the young man, until a final image appeared. (“the gorilla is going into the jungle… the king’s dagger should be in front of him, near the fruit bowl… the sun is shining in the corner) The placing of the transparents was very delicate and demanded intense concentration. We asked the group what music they would like to accompany the work and one man chose a Salif Keita song which we played on our speaker as the final adjustments were made. Afterwards the image was photographed by the group.

As the afternoon drew to a close, there was a final rush as a few new people joined the table, keen to try out constructing an image and to share ideas about the images of Mars and knowledge about various space missions. Meanwhile many of the group stayed alongside carefully helping us to pack away materials and clean the table and equipment. Several people asked us when we would be back, and we asked what other images we should bring to add to our collection for next time. As we left the centre the atmosphere around the intersection had changed, people crowded around more of the clothes vendors whilst police vans installed themselves intimidatingly at the side.’

Naomi Press and Kate France

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