Fewer I: 8417 Cells
In 2020 (figures from 4/1/2021) 8,417 migrants, some of them children, arrived on British shores in small boats*. There are at least 5,000 migrants who attempted to leave France for the UK but were stopped by the French border control during this period. The real number of people who left France and who either never got recorded or never reached these shores is unlikely ever to be known. Those seeking asylum undertake such extremely risky journeys to be met, not only by the hostile polices of the EU and UK immigration systems, but by hostile press and public reactions which all too often belittle their plight and their humanity, invoking both medical and insect metaphors from infectious disease and cancer to infestations and swarms, to justify their often inhumane treatment.
The installation “8417 Cells” consists of 8,417 hand-rolled clay spheres of different sizes (diameter 5mm-20mm) arranged randomly (they will occupy space of around 9m2).
The medium of clay has been chosen as the process of production contains within itself a transition, a form of migration from malleable element to fixed, if fragile, reified form. The form of the sphere asserted itself due to its being the structure found in nature formed by movement through multifold hostile environments through which it must travel. The reduced scale points to the continued laissez-faire attitude to the social, political and cultural diminution of migrants.
It poses the question of how can art assist to safeguard the individuality and integrity of each, not simply to disentangle the individual from the mass, but to also represent or embody a collectivised form of belittling.
Text by Adam McFall
*In 2021, at least 28,431 migrants crossed the English Channel in small boats. The number of people who made the journey in 2021 was treble the number for 2020.