Both days were spent in the Médecins du Monde France space as the Hummingbird Project- Calais and Dunkirk – Aid and Solidarity safe space Shelter was dismantled on Thursday to be rebuilt on the other side of the camp. Today, regular participants still sought us out, commenting on the move of the shelter but not dwelling on the change. We ourselves carried some of the discarded outer layer of the Hummingbird Shelter (covered in the word “Protect”) to the MdM space – wanting to offer it up there as a potential material for kite-making.
Tony – filmmaker and art therapist – was visiting the camp and Art Refuge UK project for the first time. He commented on the levels of trauma as overwhelming and on the conditions in the camp as shocking. He spoke about the huge potential but palpable sense of the fear of things, lives, being lost and wasted. From Tony’s perspective on his first visit – this is also an extraordinary, life changing place with unexpected friendliness, warmth and generosity from and between people; he also commented on the huge amounts of trust built over time on the part of Art Refuge UK.
It is significant that Tony is the first man to join the team, enabling different conversations to take place – man to man. The powerful potential and energy which can quickly turn to aggression in the camp and as quickly dissipate, could be brought into the space – young men stuck in the circularity of this place, yet craving to do something positive with their lives.
The use of animation was introduced over the two days by Tony. Many figures had blue faces; ‘illegal aliens’; eyes in the back of the head. The loop or circularity resonated perhaps with their own circularity and there seemed a fear of small steps. The larger steps don’t work so well technically, but if you are on alert all the time the small steps are difficult; no home base must be terrifying. It was difficult for people to think up a narrative when they don’t know what will happen next in their own.
The armatures however allowed for a backbone within the plasticine puppets. Several men took part – many from Sudan – watching their creature or person animated on a quick loop with evident pleasure, but then leaving quickly. One man, who literally holds onto each precious new English word he has learnt, clutched a dictionary as he made his figure, as if fearful of losing his ground. There were small but significant moments depicted – a man fleeing from war in Sudan; a mother facing the map, arms outstretched towards their homeland.
One man showed the real potential for this work: on Thursday night he had taken several blocks of coloured plasticine back to his hospital ward in the camp, brought back on Friday afternoon with a box full of animals and symbolic forms – a work in progress and start of a rich narrative, to be returned to.
The wind today was strong, the sky turning a rich blue from an overcast start. Kites were made from either plastic sacks or the “protect” fabric. A stone block was used to tether a kite which swirled in the sky, stuck in a loop. Another kite got stuck on a nearby telegraph wire, while the string of a third got cut and flew off towards the sea – “going to the UK!”.
The word “protect” resonated for us with the irony and significance of a safe space being dismantled. In this work, are we protecting a space both literal and imaginal, in a place where physical spaces keep moving? What is being protected?