Through these last days of October, before the days have shortened abruptly and autumn has bristled and rustled with its final flourish, we have watched fires blaze across the dunes near Calais, and seen bulldozers clear tents from the streets of Paris. I’ve heard people express incomprehension, disgust, disorientation, distress, and determination, still. Many registers of response in the face of an operation carried out with unfaltering singleness of intention. They form a chorus of indignation and alarm for the work we have been doing since the beginning of October with a small group of asylum seekers, some of whom have spent time in Calais, and all of whom know the vulnerability of life in the streets and camps of Paris. Our work has been quiet and protracted at times, with considerable linguistic obstacles to mutual understanding and also the difficulties of travel and keeping up with a group project when you are subjected to the vagaries of a state that leaves you without a roof over your head at 24-hrs notice, or places you in a centre miles from any public services with almost no public transport access. And it has been rich and vital too, with moments of shared animation when we’ve discovered connections between our respective languages that have sent us off on word riffs, and moments of stunned silence when one person summons the means to say some of the situations through which he has survived to find himself struggling, for weeks and months, to get a foothold in France, while remaining still deeply attached to his intention to get as far as England, and so contending too with the closing down of that horizon.
We’re going to be bringing this work to London as part of the Being Human Festival. Those of us who are able to travel will be talking about these exchanges in a presentation and discussion on Friday 18th November at Senate House, and then we will be sharing the work of the other members of the group on Saturday 19thNovember with an invitation to join your creativity to theirs in a workshop activity led by Aida Wilde, a printmaker and artist. Using a variety of materials, including paper cut outs, sticky vinyl, paint as well as cut stencils and water-based spray-paint, we will create new work based on their words. The workshop will start with a brief introduction to the project which has gathered these stories and then we will create posters and artworks inspired by their work in a continuation of the translation process, or a thinking through action about how we place ourselves and express ourselves in relation to their writings. Finally we will install the results of this Paris-London collaboration as a pop-up exhibition in Senate House, University of London that will be on display for the rest of the festival.
You can read a short extract from the diary I’ve been keeping through this project here.
And for further details on our London activities, please check out the Being Human Festival website: