Dunkerque was a collaboratively created immersive installation realised at Kometa Festival 2018 in Riga, Latvia. It remembers a now burnt-down refugee camp in Dunkerque, france and was rebuilt in an old, abandoned military tunnel.
exhibitions, a sound installation, a tea tent, info texts, a charging station and an original size wooden hut.
The Photographic and fine art Exhibitions offered a quiet glimpse into the life at La Linière refugee camp. A part was focused on the living conditions, another at the positive endurance of the people, both refugees and volunteers.
Sounds from the camp
The immersive sound installation merged sound recordings from around La Linière refugee camp into an abstract and gentle discovery of life there. From men singing kurdish songs to the scrubbing of brushes from the mold removal team.
The physical building brought an intense feeling of reality to the exhibition. All pieces were fully interactive, so that visitors could brew and drink tea, charge their phones and sit in the hut and close their eyes.
All throughout the installation informative texts in english, latvian and russian helped visitors put what they saw and experienced in context. Providing this context was incredibly important. A small booklet available for an optional donation to the RWC in english and latvian explained in much more detail how the situation in La Linière was.
Currently the human rights crises in norther france is getting even worse!
The Refugee Woman’s Centre is providing support to people living in the area of the former camp. After the camp burned down many people moved into tents in forests.
The material shed shared by multiple NGO’s in Calais recently burned down and they urgently need donations to continue providing essential help on the ground.
The visitors were taken through an emotional journey as they entered through a high chicken mesh fence into a freely discoverable installation. Left of of the entrance one could take a 16-page booklet explaining all elements of the installation as well as an in-depth story of the situation in france. They were available in English and Latvian.
The Charging station offered the possibility to charge your phone, encouraging empathy with people on the move for whom electricity is essential to stay in touch with their friends and family.
The tea tent was a place of encounter and reflection. People could sit down, drink a black tea with sugar and contemplate an exhibition of drawings as they got to know each other. It recreated the self-organised, social hub of the refugee camp where men would sit together, drink tea, talk politics and smoke cigarettes.
The Hut was a 1:1 rebuild of the wooden structures people lived in. It was recreated as realistically as possible with damp blankets, cooking utensils, children’s drawings on the wall and a little candle illuminating the portrait of a musician that lived in the real camp. Sitting here you could imagine what it must have felt like to sit in one of these huts with up to nine people for months.
In March 2016, following the developing refugee crisis in Northern France and Europe, over 350 untreated plywood huts were constructed in Grand Synth, Dunkerque. They replaced the almost inhabitable muddy camp before it called ‘Basroch’.
The Dunkerque Mayor lead the push for the build – the funds were raised by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the local town hall. Around 85% of the camps residents were Kurdish, the largest group of people on earth who don’t have an independent homeland; for centuries they have been on a quest for nationhood, rejected by a series of repression, internal political disputes and Western intervention.The other 15% consisted of various minorities from Iran, Syria, Kuwait and Vietnam. The camp population became very overcrowded, with up to 2000 refugees sleeping in the shelters, kitchens and open camp structures.
The charitable management of the camp (Utopia56) came to an end in May 2016 due to disagreements regarding the enforcements made by the French State on placing strict control on refugee admission and volunteer access. It was then run by a joint agreement between the State, City Council and the organisation Afeji.
Due to the bureaucracy of the system, gaining support for the self-organised groups working in the camp became very challenging. At one point, distribution of maintenance and basic materials were restricted and even banned, leaving some individuals sneaking in blankets through the worst of winter. As a result, there was no central management for a joint aid system and eventually close to no social initiatives were supported by the camp officials. Additionally, a constant undertone of closure overruled many attempts to make the environment a dignified, comfortable space to live in; its only eventual purpose for the State was to keep the citizens fed and, as cynical as it sounds, concealed.
The atmosphere in the camp finally reached boiling point and it tragically burnt down in April 2017 due to clashes that broke out between camp residents. It left over 1500 refugees stranded; some were moved into temporary emergency spaces, which have now shut down. Many of the refugees, including families, remained in the area of Northern France, sleeping in even more precarious micro-encampments such as the forest.
In November 2016, in efforts to help improve living conditions in the vastly worsening structural environment of Grande-Synthe refugee camp in Dunkerque, we ran a funded by ‘Care4Calais’ to treat shelters of mould and damp. During our time there, we strongly discovered the importance of a dignified and respected sanctuary and how the lack of it was incredibly damaging to a persons spirit and energy. We also felt strongly, as was the general consensus with any individual who witnessed the conditions, that having a simple space to live, eat and sleep without extensive damp, trapped air and layers of dangerous fungus, doesn’t meet basic standards of living. With our documentary mindsets (in-between the motions of the project) we gathered consenting imagery, audio and video of the camps ambience. Now, an artistic collaboration between volunteers and refugees has evolved into an physical, visual and audio installation, for others to experience the mental frame of mind such a space of living would extract.
Photography, audio recordings and design
Photography and audio
Photography (reporter for The Guardian)
With heartfelt thanks to the anonymous contributors who, for protection, are unnamed – Audio recordings, thoughts and direction.
‘To forget is to offend, and memory, when it is shared, abolishes this offence. If we want to share the beauty of the world, if we want to be solidarity with its suffering, we need to learn how to remember together’