Cartes postales du bagne

Bad maps. An inaccurate guide to tracing one’s steps

Île des Pins
23-24 July 2018

Île des Pins is an island located to the South of the mainland and is part of the South Province. It is about a 20-minute flight from Magenta Airport in Nouméa. The island was the site where political deportees were sent both from France but also the Kabyle rebels. As the commune located the furthest away from Paris, the exile of the communards to Ile des Pins after 1871 bears enormous symbolic as well as geographical weight. Rélégués (recidivists sent to the penal colony) were subsequently sent to the island between 1887 and 1910. The island became an indigenous reserve once more in 1913.

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Today there are a number of vestiges associated with the bagne. We were grateful for the blog Un jour en Calédonie which provided a fair amount of useful information on where to find various ruins on the island. Most notably there are those found in Ouro, the restored doctor’s house and gendarmerie on the Baie de Kuto and also the neat and carefully maintained Cimetière des Déportés near Ouro. Some of the ruins at Ouro are located on private land and you have to ask permission from the épicerie built within the old walls of the ruins.

During our visit we focused our attention on the ruins across the road from the épicerie and in particular on those contained by a large perimeter wall. This was partly due to the odd opening hours of the épicerie and partly due to intermittent rain. Although there is a brown heritage sign indicating the vestiges, there are no panels here (details about the sites were found at the Itinéraire Bagne panel located at the Baie de Kuto). This means there is a certain amount of guesswork as to the original function of the buildings. On entering the interior of the walled space, we found 4 brick buildings. Two seemed to have held dormitories and it was still possible to see hooks for hammocks on the walls. Two were slightly smaller buildings containing 10 individual cells. This suggests (prior to checking on any plans) that the site was a quartier de réclusion as the cell system was only really used in the bagne as a form of punishment. In a recent guide, it suggests that this was the ‘prison’ for rélégués at Ouro, a closed space distinct to other sites such as the ateliers and hospital.

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A grumpy bull provided a useful reference point.

Exploring the site, the vegetation made it easy to become disorientated. We both decided it might be easier to get a clearer understanding of the space by creating mini maps or plans of the layout. There is something exciting about how ruins allow one to get lost and disorientated whilst speculating on the stories of the space. There is a greater sense of freedom perhaps than at a site which has been carefully restored and heavily signposted. Ruins offer the possibility of exploration even if what we discover is limited to a very personal engagement with a space. It is an engagement that relies heavily on the tactile, touching walls, negotiating brambles and nettles.

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Different pathways amongst the vegetation leading to the different buildings

The attempt to come up with a map of the space was an attempt to move beyond this tactile experience and to produce an understanding of the layout that wouldn’t easily be transmitted by a series of photos. I also wanted to experiment with diy methods of getting the scale right.

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A first attempt at a plan of the ‘vestiges’

My first attempt freestyle had to be scribbled over and redrawn, showing the inadequacies of my ability to think spatially. So I decided to note down the distances between key points as well as the dimensions of each building using my stride as a measure. The next day I redrew the map using the strides as a very rough guide. The result is neater but I feel more attached to the original draft sketch with all its scribbles. Still as I was to find out…I was still way out.

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Second attempt. Still wrong.

Claire’s map, as will become apparent, is more accurate. The reference to ‘shit building’ is because she stumbled (almost) across some human excrement in one of the cells there. She has opted to denote the bull as a vortex.

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CR’s map

After drawing our own plans, we came across a bird’s eye view photo of the site taken from one of the nearby hills. It is clear the original or earlier organisation of the buildings and walls was different and had undergone some significant developments to constitute the layout we encountered. For example, in one photo I’ve seen there was a small hut or ‘kiosk’ located in the centre of the space which has now completely disappeared. Today I came across an aerial view from 2000 featured in a short guide produced in 2014. The vegetation at that point has been completely cleared from around the buildings although they all seem to have trees growing inside. This is the reverse to the current state of the ruins which also suggests that the roofs have been replaced on all except one building in the inner compound. The photo makes the symmetry of the buildings much clearer. The positioning of the two cell buildings at diagonals is something that was obscured by the vegetation and the wiggly paths leading to each building. SF (& CR)

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Detail from aerial view taken in 2000. From Angleviel (2014)

 

References

‘Les Vestiges du bagne de l’Ile des Pins’. Un Jour en Calédonie. Blog. 7 February 2016. Available: https://www.unjourencaledonie.com/vestiges-bagne-ile-des-pins/. Last Accessed 3 August 2018.

Frédéric Angleviel, Le pays Kunié: Déportation, Bagne et Patrimoine Pénitentiaire (Marie des Ile des Pins & Éditions du GRHOC, 2014).

Sketch #4. Ile des Pins

23 July 2018

A few raggedy sketches of buildings I did as an aide memoire. These relate to the four buildings enclosed by a surrounding wall at Ouro on Ile des Pins. Building five is outside the interior wall and was most likely for guards. Buildings 1-4 seem to be sleeping quarters with two buildings composed of individual cells. Due to all the vegetation at the site, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish different structures retrospectively especially after a certain amount of time had passed. Taking some to do these also made me think more about the architecture as well as the different points at which the lines and frames of the buildings had been disrupted or eroded.

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sketches 3.

Bagne des Annamites, Montsinéry-Tonnegrande
9 June 2018

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Bagne des Annamites

Up until now the plans I have drawn have tended to focus on the organisation of a museum space as viewed from within the space itself. This is a line drawing I did based on a tourist map of the Bagne des Annamites at Montsinéry-Tonnegrande. It isn’t annotated as I drew it before visiting the site and decided to leave it as it was. In French Guiana the secondary forest is prolific and routes and trails can quickly become overgrown or inaccessible due to heavy rainfall. It had been raining heavily the day before we went to the site so I didn’t know what to expect although existing blog posts and comments suggested the site was easily accessible and well-signed. Nevertheless I copied the paths in case we did get lost and couldn’t rely on GPS coverage. This turned out to be completely unnecessary. The paths around the site were well marked and there were mini maps indicating the specific location on the various signage around the ruins. Still, the important skill of using manual maps and moreover other methods of finding one’s way should not be underestimated especially in French Guiana. SF

sketches 2.

Musée Franconie, Cayenne, 7 June 2018

For this plan of the section of the museum dedicated to objects related to the bagne, I used a ruler. I find lined paper helps provide a grid but is perhaps distracting to look at it. There was a small double seat in the corner of the museum where I sat to make the sketch. It didn’t take very long but sitting there facing the artworks by Francis Lagrange I wondered about how many hours he must have sat in the Cathedral museum in Rouen preparing the details for his forgery.

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Sketches 1.

Fort Balaguier

 

A significant part of the project involves consideration of the visual representation and framing of penal heritage in French Guiana and New Caledonia. While we are relying on the use of photography to document the presentation of different sites and types of sites, there is the danger that photographs reproduce an aesthetics of display rather than providing an alternative critical frame.

Photographs intended to document a site objectively (despite any claim to objectivity being void) risk becoming sterile on later examination. A single image might also become too important or an attempt at producing an exhaustive set of images can end up producing an overwhelming and unmanageable plethora of images.

To off-set some of these challenges, I have started to incorporate sketches alongside my fieldnotes. The ability to draw well or at all does not seem a prerequisite amongst anthropologists which gives me a certain sense of encouragement. Most of my sketches are little more than line drawings, cartoons or doodles sometimes with some colour added depending on what is in my pencil case. Although the pen like the camera is a prosthetic device, there are nevertheless some fairly key and obvious reasons why sketching can be a useful embodied experience alongside photography.

  1. There is a tendency to focus on the capturing of objects and their labels in a museum or gallery. If it is unlikely I will get the chance to visit again, this becomes further intensified and I feel under enormous pressure to capture everything in as systematic way as possible. Although this has often proved self-defeating and physically exhausting, experience has also taught me that the things that turn out to be of greatest interest are not necessarily the ones I expected. To take some time out from this often tedious practice of capturing to draw a sketch can be quite useful and provide a necessary physical rest and chance to start reflecting.
  2. In small prison museums and exhibitions, I quite enjoy sketching out a plan of the space. Photographs don’t always do a great job of expressing layouts. A sketch can act as an aide-mémoire at the same time as obliging me to note carefully where everything is. Although written notes are probably most helpful in describing how narratives are presented across a sites, a layout sketch can also emphasize important juxtapositions between objects and other displays. So far I’ve tended to draw layout free hand with limited success. Most recently, these include a plan of the layout of the permanent exhibition on the bagnes at Fort Balaguier.
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The permanent exhibition on the bagne located in the former chapel at Fort Balaguier
  1. I am also keen to learn what these might flag up retrospectively about my own selection and framing of different carceral spaces and heritage as well as my labeling techniques and how these might evolve throughout the project. SF.