Meditation Four

The survivor was among 41 people found hiding amid cargo in Melilla’s port area on Friday, attempting to sneak aboard a ship that would take them across the Mediterranean Sea to mainland Spain. Four of them were discovered in recycling containers beneath glass bottles, some broken with sharp edges. AP News Report February 22 2021

In the middle of our plot is our Living Studio, designed to recall the temporary shelters made by people on the move, to remind us that they are part of our worlds and not marginal to it. We wanted to find a way to connect with the Calais ‘Jungle’. This was a piece of land in the French port of Calais that had been a neglected dump for city rubbish, toxic waste and dredging’s from the port expansion. Migrants were moved on to it in the early 2000s and it developed into a makeshift camp for people attempting to cross from France to the UK. In European press people on the move are associated with waste. They are routinely described using terms such as scurry, scuttle, sneak and swarm, all verbs more usually attached to the movement of insects and vermin, associated with products of eco-systems that we would rather forget. These vernacular connections are metaphors that have crept into our language and are reproduced by politicians exposing and shaping our feelings and responses.

The ‘Jungle’, a stopping off place for migrants, a place of humanitarianism but also of solidarity became a source of dispute between French and British governments. In October 2016, the French Government destroyed the encampment completely and evicted all the residents. The area was declared subject to ‘ecological restoration’ and ‘landscape reconquest’ and it was converted into a nature reserve. The topography was changed to make it attractive to waterfowl but impossible for humans to camp on, and anti-intrusion features made it difficult for humans to traverse – a form of naturalised securitisation. ‘Fort Vert’ was transformed into a reserve where the citizens of Calais could ‘reconnect’ with nature and where the endangered native species Liparis loeselii fen orchid could flourish. The port of Calais has given rise to conflict between England and France for centuries, but the UK Home Office is now a key investor, contributing funds to this project which is part of France’s ‘National Restoration Plan’. The delighted UK Immigration Minister described the project as facilitating a ‘return to nature’ AND as preventing the return of migrants to the area.

What are the histories and contemporary regimes of violence that ahistorical visions of return to a (pre-political) nature occlude? Who are these visions for? How do we re-envision a practical politics of mobility and ecology?

Meditation Four: readings