Exploring the politics of immigration and the politics of environment through planting

A call for proposals for the artist-led creation of a new University of Bristol garden space and living lab

Deadline: Midday 26th February 2021

c.£12,000,available for the commission. 

In 2017 the Calais ‘Jungle’ was subject to ‘ecological restoration’ and ‘landscape reconquest’. In the early 2000s it had been a neglected dump for port dredgings and city rubbish before migrant squatters were moved on to it, and it became the infamous residence for people attempting to cross from France to the UK. In October 2016, the French Government destroyed the encampment completely and initiated the conversion of the Jungle into a nature reserve, with the UK Home Office a key investment partner. UK Immigration Minister described the project as facilitating a ‘return to nature’ AND as preventing the return of migrants to the area. The plants growing from previous inhabitants’ waste – like onions – were uprooted. The topography was changed to make it attractive to waterfowl but also impossible for humans to camp on, and anti-intrusion features were inbuilt making it difficult for humans to traverse. ‘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. This would mean the space could achieve designated status in France’s ‘National Restoration Plan’. The fen orchid is in decline as it requires human and large animal activity in its habitat. “The contradiction of creating an artificial conservation environment prohibiting human activity to protect a rare plant species depending on such activity highlights Fort Vert’s ecological value as closely tied to proving political justification for, or ‘green washing’, the Jungle’s eviction and destruction’ (van Isacker 2020: 171).

This series of events around Calais, a territory historically much contested between England and France but now a space of co-operation between the UK Home Office and the French state, raises many important questions including questions about the relation between the politics of immigration and the politics of the environment. These are even more urgent in the context of COVID where anxiety about the pathogen and its spread are often mapped on to anxiety about the borders of the nation state. The language of immunology has long drawn on the imagery of the body as a nation state defending its borders from viral intruders and conversely the language of politics has drawn on the imagery of the nation as a body. To quote UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech when he left hospital following his treatment for COVID- 19: “We will defeat this coronavirus and defeat it together. We will win because our NHS is the beating heart of this country. It is the best of this country. It is unconquerable. It is powered by love.” The reliance of the NHS on migrant labour sits uneasily with the metaphor of the nation as a body with boundaries to be protected from intrusion. Discourses of environmental protection may similarly reinforce exclusionary rhetoric around immigration, with notions of ‘native’ species and populations shared between the two fields. Processes of migrant integration, meanwhile, are conceptualised as putting down roots, whilst detention and deportation uproot members of British families and police the boundaries of belonging.


We invite an artist-led team to partner with Brigstow, academics at the University of Bristol (Professor Katharine Charsley, Dr Nariman Massoumi and Professor Bridget Anderson), the university estates team, research project students, the wider student body, and members of migrant/refugee organisations in creating a site specific garden to explore the above ideas and foster discussion over the politics of migration and the politics of the environment – specifically engaging policy makers.

We invite the team, through site-specific planting, to respond to any or all of the following questions concerning relationships between the politics of immigration and the politics of the environment:

  • What political work is being done by ideas of invasive others? How do emotions and ideas get transferred from one focus (pathogens) to another (people)?  What is the role of nationalism?
  • How do we negotiate the politics of environmentalism which can draw on ideas of invasive vs indigenous, and the politics of migration?
  • How is nature taken out of history – an effort to return to Eden, to the purity of the past? And how can we describe and explore the historicity of nature?
  • What are the ecosystems that we would rather forget that migrants force us to remember?
  • What are the connections between routes and roots?
  • Can the naturalized ever become native?
  • How can we unearth and change perceptions of impurity and contamination?
  • How and why does language matter in policy debates over the environment and migration?


  • Design of concept and the plots, and supervision of planting (see end of document for pictures and orientation of plots)
  • On site signage/narratives (digital and printed)
  • Digital presence and documentation of the process/project, including gathering stories from members of migrant/refugees.


Critical intervention within environmental and migration-related policies and discussions and to also raise the awareness and implications of language during this. 

Creating a physical space within the university (a living classroom for use as a living lab for discussions with staff, students, policy makers and publics.) for further discussions between disparate disciplines and local communities, to have these knotty conversations and contribute towards this controversial discourse.


Please submit to hello-brigstow@bristol.ac.uk by midday 26th February 2021:

  • a two page proposal document responding to the provocations above with initial ideas, plus an indicative budget (in the region of c.£12k to cover artists’ and other team members’ fees and materials including plants)
  • a brief CV/portfolio (no more than two pages).

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this call before applying, please email hello-brigstow@bristol.ac.uk and we will arrange a time to speak with Brigstow and/or the academics involved.


  • Commission announced February 2021
  • Closing date: midday 26th February 2021
  • Outcomes: late February 2021
  • R&D by artist: March 2021
  • Critical research by interns – March 2021 onwards
  • Planting: community exercise (students, Brigstow, Cabot, External Estates, members of migrant and refugee organisations), from March to September 2021

Further details:

Initial engagement with members of migrant/refugee organisations will be managed by academics at the University of Bristol.

There is potential to work with Brigstow to set up a volunteer programme for the maintenance of the plots.

The plots identified will be available for a 3-5 year timespan, although this commission is for the set up and initial planting and is expected to take place during the 2021 growing season, so March to September.

We invite use of either or both of the plots (potentially in conversation with each other with an 18th century garden portico that lies between these sites).

You can view a document answering frequently asked questions and giving further information on the plots: Garden Commission FAQ (PDF, 1,999kB)Garden Commission FAQ (PDF, 1,999kB)

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