5 November – 3 December 2016

Lucy Stein
On Celticity
An exhibition by Paola Clerico – ArtAtWork

14th October 2016

 

I am writing from the Eurostar. I just boarded at Calais Frethun and ran to the buffet car before finding my seat. The Oxford University refugee camp research team who I had met in the camp were chuckling as I made my way back down the aisle clutching a mini burgundy. It’s Friday night and the carriage smells of booze. I am wracked with nerves and guilt as we slip under the sea to England.

In Cornwall last month Paola and I agreed on using a recipe for a perfume as a substitute for a press re-lease. I had found a “Moon Priestess” potion by Janet Farrar in the Museum of Witchcraft Library. I explained to Paola that I wanted to make an essence heavy with nighttime smells and turpentine. This would evaporate from inside the bathtub sourced from a farm outside Falmouth which I have titled “Self anointed Queen of the Underworld.” There are streaks of Cornish mud in it which look to me like a decomposed mermaid.

I see it as my self in repose/decomposed/annihilated.

My time in the Jungle initiated a deep belief in the need for unleashing creative energies and nurturing the feminine principle during times of great tension. According to Joseph Campbell, Starhawk and many others, the work of the Divine Feminine, or Goddess, is to initiate humanity into elemental constructs of time and space, to go beyond the “here” and “now”, “past” and “future”. Throughout mythology she is a conduit of na-ture’s vitality and gifts humanity with consciousness of the immanence of all life. In Celtic folklore she is shapeshifting, transient, liquid. She has boundless energy and agency. She becomes a hare, a shadow, a sow- she gives birth amongst pigs- she is our lady of the night… In the same tale she can be both huntress and quarry. She symbolises transformation and life force. She is immanent.

Paola and I have spoken often of this force and the need to recognise and foreground its potency. I feel that acknowledging this feminine principle, and “keeping up” spirits is a form of fightback in the crisis of care.

I went to the Jungle with a group of students on a course called “Studio for Immediate Spaces” at the Sand-berg institute in Amsterdam. In hasty WhatsApp conversations with my old friend and course leader Leo, alongside architects Pierre and Manon, and curator Silvia, we agreed to treat a field trip to the Jungle city the same as we would treat a field trip in Brussels or Amsterdam despite the shifting context created by the im-pending evictions. Naturally this raised difficult questions about inappropriateness, insensitivity towards an already bewildered population of mainly young men, as well as irresponsibility towards the students and our-selves as the heightened tensions could make it a dangerous place to be. In the end we decided to go with our guts as we knew from learning about previous projects (most of which had left due to “the situation”) that the camp was full of bored people who might appreciate some intellectual stimulation, respect, support and direct human kindness. This we could offer and hope to get in return.

By day we set about building the 57th Belfry of the Calais region on the raised sand dune in the centre of the camp out of reclaimed materials. This acted as an antenna for picking up mobile phone signal as well as a watchtower, tea and soup kitchen, community centre and information point. Bringing my limited skill set to the project, I encouraged people to decorate the belfry, and initiated full moon and dream drawing work-shops. This meant setting out a whole load of materials and starting to draw then keeping the space in order  as men came up to join in, shyly at first and then with enthusiasm. We watched impressed as young Afghans led kite-making sessions.

By night we organised a series of lectures in Sami’s an Afghan cafe on the main drag. On the second night, to a large audience made up of our group and mainly Afghan and Sudanese guys, I showed the works that Paola and I have chosen for the show at Rodeo. I spoke about my research into Celticity, and how specific place myths have affected my experi-ence of living in Cornwall. I spoke about the idea of the Celtic as shorthand for shadowy “other”, the moon and metamorphosing humans and creatures from folklore. All the rumours have suggested that it will be this coming Monday morning that the buses will arrive to ship off all the residents of the camp to “reception cen-tres” across France. There will be a full moon on Sunday. On top of everything else I thought this was very careless of the authorities.*

“Celtic” is a catchall term that implies “other” to Roman imperialism, hence the way it gets periodically taken up by romantics, feminists, and nationalists. The fact that the Celts were a migratory people is beyond doubt. It seems to have been the “insular” Celts whose language and identity have left the impression of a race of impassioned caring, sharing, hairy humans who paid in blood for their lack of conformity to Roman and later Anglo Saxon rule and eventually settled down to their quiet and mysterious care taking of the Atlantic fringe.

Manon asked me if I could relate anything I had witnessed or experienced in the camp to ideas of Celticity and I was tongue tied. I didn’t want to historicise something that was on the point of being forcibly eradicated nor risk romanticising the horrors that I was witnessing there; the burnt out tents, the police aggression and racism, the sanitation, the damaged psyches. I ummed and ahhed and ended up saying “No” I could not think of anything that I had seen that sparked any connection to my research into Celtic otherness.

At the end of the talk when I asked if anyone had any questions or comments an Afghan man who had lived in Halifax until he got deported, (and thus has made the perilous journey from east to west twice) said that he had heard that people really believed in mermaids, did I? I replied that since most people believe that at one point we all slouched out of the sea and that some people feel that they have more genetic inheritances from that time than others, I am not afraid to feel the fish in me. I am a mermaid.

When I took Paola to Boscawen ‘Un, my most beloved stone circle outside St Buryan, an Italian couple were flying a kite with a drone in it with the logo of the comic Valentina over the circle. They were collecting arial shots of many of the circles in Penwith. I was doing my usual lazy but time consuming ritual of travelling in-side the circumference of the circle three times “widdershins” from the stone made of pure quartz, talking to and gathering energy from each stone. “Widdershins” means against the sun, the inverse of the routes that these traumatised humans take to get to Calais.

I have to “get into a state” to make my paintings.  They are spells. In my talk I explained how it was that for a few weeks last summer I kept waking up to find dead animals in my bed in St Just. I would turn the light on and pace around the room and still they would be there, lying rigid with clammy fur. Eventually they would disappear into ruffled sheets but not before I was howling with visceral fear at having shared the bed with them. First it was a cat and then foxes. I figured they were visuals leftover from the all the carnage I had wit-nessed in the countryside earlier in the summer, hedgerows bursting with life and death in glorious techni-colour. The doctor said that the brain, if left to imaginative work, under conditions of emotional stress would start to create its own reality.

I think of genius loci or spirit of place.

The helicopters flew over the Jungle low and at speed. We feared that the kites would get caught in the pro-pellers. At one point, at sundown, one of the kites seemed to have reached over the motorway perimeter fence, it was so far away you could barely see it.

Imagine nations without borders, only spirits!

People without boundaries.

We breathe the same air, we came from the same bog.

We bleed and howl under the same moon.

What a massive cock up!!!

 

*The evictions officially began on 24th October 2016

 

 

“Moon Priestess perfume”

-1 Full moon essence from Treadwells

-3 drops lemon oil

-1 drop rose oil

-4 fluid ounces Turpentine