Café Papote, Paris, 28th January 2021
We were welcomed by Immaculéé and Ferdous from the Paris Secours Catholique team with whom we have been working virtually and remotely since early last year. The Café Papote has spread out from one to three spaces to enable social distancing with each space welcoming up to 20 people.The atmosphere throughout the afternoon was very calm, though some people seemed very tired.
The unpredictable and precarious circumstances of peoples' daily lives are very present on the streets around this day centre, where crowds of people gather at distribution points and street vendors sell peanuts, corn, and tea in thermos flasks from upturned cans. Many people carry bags and sacs overflowing with often hastily gathered possessions, wet and ripped tents drape fences along railway sidings. As you head to these districts of the city the atmosphere changes, people are vigilant as brutal police evictions continue daily.
Inside the centre different activities were taking place over all three spaces: games, building blocks, French lessons... We decided to set up a table in the darkest space, as we were working with an overhead projector. This was a first session, so we were experimenting with the materials and the space, to see what would be appropriate.
Several possibilities presented themselves : using the projector for shadow play and stories, or landscapes and overlapping transparencies, including prints of satellite images on transparent paper. We also used water, shadow puppets, torn paper, natural objects, and cut outs. There were lots of surprises. On another scale there was a little slide viewer, with a selection of slides to look at privately, and a pile of postcards.
Several volunteers and refugees came and experimented with us around the table. One man with a bandaged hand made several slides, using the printed transparent paper and writing over it in felt tip. He photographed his slides and edited them on his telephone. Other people looked at postcards and made responses to them, or experimented with shadow play and painting. A painting of a volcano in Auvergne became transformed by the projector into a study of light and shade, almost like a woodcut. Even the antiseptic gel sprayed onto the projector became a moving part of the projected image.
We hardly felt the time go by, and felt that this was the beginning of a process with many possibilities. The team at café Papote are very curious, engaged and keen to see what will happen next...
We all agreed to try and find a better location for our table -still needing the darkness for our projections to work, but finding a corner more visible to those entering the centre. Many ideas were discussed with the team members who joined us at the table; introducing sound, printing out the handmade slides to make more transparencies, creating a "library" of slides and shadow puppets, finding a place for narrative... We all look forward to continuing this when we return to Café Papote in February.
Naomi Press and Kate France Art Refuge, France team