This photograph may be of my first ever installation! I’m forced by an innate honesty to give my older sister collaborative credit. Indeed, seniority probably makes her lead artist – to be fair.
This may seem like a playful beginning to this post – but I am (in some senses) deadly serious. Finding this picture was one of those moments in life where things fall into place. I’m experiencing this kind of eureka effect all over the place lately (the unusual frequency of which doesn’t detract from each new find). I’m processing after my radio programme and the colossus that was the ACE bid writing for the Museum for Object Research part 2.
It’s been hard picking up the threads of my studio practice and I think I must recognise that my practice is evolving in ways which make studio practice less vital to me right now. I’m both in limbo (waiting for the result of my ACE bid) and on a slow build creatively speaking.
Alighting on this photograph allowed some of my recent uncertainty to evaporate. Now I know why I’ve had the ‘through the windows’ music from Play School (playing at the beginning of this YouTube video) as ear worm. I’ve been messing around with plaster of Paris and latex, mould-making and casting.
This is all in the early stages and partly inspired by a series of workshops designed to create a community installation. The influence of the recent Racheal Whiteread exhibition is also very obvious in this work. Perhaps less so is the work of Cy Twombly whose sculptures I encountered for the very first time in Munich several years ago. I hadn’t known about them despite being a devotee of his painting practice. They were a revelation, sparking joy.
I experienced paradoxical emotions – both a deep sense of recognition and surprise. In my excitement I ran around the gallery saying hello to each new friend. As luck would have it a fantastically illustrated book was for sale (and in the sale) for almost nothing and I have kept it in my studio awaiting its moment.
Sometimes I feel I’m not making work when in reality my brain rarely switches off and I have a surfeit of ideas. Channelling and organising them is another matter, and it can be overwhelming and bewildering to manage the sheer volume and tangle of cognitions my autistic brain produces.
This is where the Play School ear worm comes into it’s own and the messing about with materials (especially the new stuff) is so important to me in finding my way.
The importance and value of documentation (thank you dad!) is proven once again – as without this image of my early forays into making through play (circa 1964) I might not have glimpsed where all this tinkering about is leading (to a complex multi form installation I think, which I can just about see the edges of in the corner of my mind’s eye). Trusting process is immensely difficult when you’re at the beginning of something new. It can feel like you’re ‘wasting time’ at this point because explorative work is like that. But it’s absolutely vital.
Untutored explorations can lead to interesting failures! I have a bagful of dusty plastered and latex coated items which are probably unusable.
So I’m also watching a lot of ‘how to’ videos on YouTube – again, I am reminded of how much of my learning was through the telly (as a child) and how well quietly absorbing information through a screen still suits me.
Autistic artists are often autodidacts and YouTube offers a brilliant way of accessing information which can unlock new skills. Once I get my teeth into whatever emerges I will also be thinking about new ways to reach audiences with my work. I’m honestly tired of starting from scratch each time a project closes – new autistic strategies are also forming in my mind.
No wonder it often feels like I’ve got the M1 running through my brain, or that the idea of a kind of Play School at my kitchen table is so very good for my practice right now .
I don’t want to write too many words. I’d like my video to speak for itself. Mainly, I need Arts Council England to know that their bureaucratic processes, in current form, disable significant groups of autistic and neurodivergent artists.
I know autistics who succeed in making applications – I also know many who are unable to contemplate beginning one. The argument often goes that “neurotypical” artists struggle with it too. Albeit true (in the sense that it is a gruelling process of competition for limited resources which also requires ‘insider information’ to succeed) it is also an ableist thing to say because it minimises exactly how uneven the playing ground is for us as a group. Just because some of us push through doesn’t mean it is okay. The bar is high – but the bar is also structurally unfair.
I want also to say that those of us who do take on the beast can be harmed in the process. I think this is disabling.
I think Arts Council should know.
It’s not a programme to do your ironing to, my producer, Anna Scott-Brown, warned me minutes before the transmission of, The Art of Now: Return to Catalonia (an Overtone Productions programme for BBC Radio 4), which you can listen to on iPlayer on the link above.
I’d spent the previous three days feeling like I was trapped in an elevator shaft with the lift about to drop on my head from the tension of waiting to hear it!
With such a short run up time I’d thrown myself into the project and relied on hyperfocus to develop the creative concept and refine every detail needed to retrace my father’s exile journey from Spain to England in 1939, making creative responses along the way.
We finished our recording in Spain, and my part was over. Anna and (co-director) Adam Fowler, then toiled at the edit and sound design to craft the woolly mammoth of material we’d created into a 28 minute programme ( we generated so much material in fact that the editing software groaned, registered full, and would take no more!) I just couldn’t imagine how they would do it.
During transmission I was transfixed. I honestly sat staring at the radio with my ears cocked like a spaniel – I really did – as a dazzling geology of sound whizzed about my ears seeming to stop time.
It is the most extraordinary radio programme I have ever heard – due entirely to Overtone Productions artistry. I’m incredibly proud to be part of it. It’s a rich, immersive, sophisticated listen – the imagery piles in from moment 1.
My extended family sat 60 miles away gathered around the radio, listening intently together as families once did. My teenage daughter surprised me by slinking onto the sofa unbidden to hear it.
Messages flooded in. Enhorabuena! The layering is really beautiful! Your voice sounds wonderful….
A poet watched patches of sunlight dance on the wall which she said looked exactly like the sound of my voice as she listened. She sent me a video – it really does.
The following day I heard from friends who’d toiled up the mountain of listening (like the exiles crossing the Pyrenees) to unpick the intricate soundscape. Hearing is not always a given we must remember, and in this case a husband lent his ears to transcribe it from iPlayer for his wife. An act of love and dedication (on so many levels) echoing the love which went into making this programme.
I’m immensely grateful, and somewhat in awe – I feel I’ve reach a summit. This was my dream job – an artist can ask for no more. To open up my soul on Radio 4 has been quite extraordinary – to have shared this journey with Overtone Productions is even more precious.
The genius of their work is that in each listening (and I keep on listening) you hear more layers. It took 5 times for me to catch my own voice lowered and playing under the sound of me digging in the sand – ¡Buenos días, dictator! I intone…the title of my recent exhibition, which is so so resonant in this moment of my ritual.
Having murmured into a recorder almost every day and sent endless files through WeTransfer, I realise that few people will understand my work better than they. They’ve heard me talking down my demons on my walks around Oxford, and know that I have all my best thoughts in the shower. It has been a revelation to record myself – something which I will continue to do as it’s such a useful creative tool. I will miss talking to Anna though – she has been such a wonderfully encouraging and receptive creative companion.
If you haven’t heard the programme yet I urge you to give it a listen. An art piece in itself, its a portrait of creative reliance in the face of inherited trauma. This has so much to say to us in present times.
Visual output from this project can be found on my website
(Still from my new film called, With You.)
Life’s a bit full on at the moment, but in infinitely good and exciting ways. My work with Overtone Productions for the Radio 4 programme, The Art of Now: Return to Catalonia, continues apace and is all consuming, partly because we have such a short window in which to make it. It’s also a compelling piece of work to be making at this time of high tension and uncertainty in Catalonia.
I am loving working with Overtone who make this easy for me, and are infinitely encouraging about all the sound pieces I’m recording ahead of our trip to France and Spain next week. The process of recording myself is in itself fascinating – a new form to learn about and enjoy from behind the scenes.
Mainly, I find myself thrown headlong into an intensely personal creative exploration where family history, the recent conflicts in Catalonia, and the opportunity to extend (embody & flesh out) the visual language of my practice collide. I’ve been scared at times that this could get messy, and I still don’t quite know what my journey will bring, but I feel so well held by Overtone and the various people now supporting this project in Barcelona that I’m mostly reassured and have begun thinking about my work in terms of transmission and reception. Amid the fear engendered by buried trauma (a second generation inheritance called postmemory) there is a new sense of welcome which opens out possibility. This is deeply inspiring on the importance of welcome and receptivity in both cultural and human terms.
The title to a Nora Jones song – Strange Transmissions – has worked its way into my brain in relation to recent conversations with Dr Helena Buffery. She works with me on my father’s plays and together we try to make sense of his creative project in the context of Spanish exile. She has also facilitated the reception for my work in Barcelona. It’s immensely beneficial to the preparation to have a sense of arrival for the project once we hit Spain.
Intense processing has led me to what I hope will be a coherent outcome in terms of the art-making side of the programme. I now have a plan, and it’s a pretty tight one at that. With so few days on the road – traveling in quick succession through the camps of Frances at Argelès and Barcarès, over the border at La Jonquera and then on to Barcelona – I’ve needed to think this through in the finest of detail possible.
Last week we recorded the English leg of our journey at Shipton-under-Wychwood. It was a cold and soggy day with enough time spent outdoors to thoroughly soak our feet and test out our waterproofs – mine being newly acquired for the purposes of this journey. It was a good excuse to equip myself properly and has paid for itself already by enabling me to film on location and capture footage I’m incredibly pleased with. It couldn’t have gone better I feel, and rain added a perfect melancholy and depth to the work.
So I’ve created a new film to take with me to Spain called, With You – which I’ll upload on this blog nearer the time of the programme – the still capture (shown above) has been taken over a transition. I’m excited by this effect and the way in which it says exactly what I want to convey about the layers of my project by superimposing one image over another.
Yesterday I cracked the piece for the final leg of my journey in a momentary flash of inspiration on acquiring a new and unexpected object. I can’t wait to share this with listeners to Radio 4. Tune in on the 19th March at 4pm and all will be revealed!
(I’m taking a camera which can’t take pictures to document the erasure of this history).
The Art of Now: A Return to Catalonia
BBC Radio 4
Transmission Date Monday, 19th March 2018, 4pm
Presented by Sonia Boué
Produced by Anna Scott-Brown
So I’m finally returning. I can’t help wondering what Abuela (grandma) would say?
I wish too that my father could know that I am going back to Catalonia, via the beaches of Barcarès and Argèles (where he was held in refugee interment camps), to retrace his exile journey to England in 1939.
At the age of 18, he, along with 500,000 other Spaniards, fled for his life across the border to France. I have spent the last five years building a body of work in response to this family history, and have also cast my net wider to encompass figures such as British artist and Spanish Civil War volunteer, Felicia Browne, and the exiled Spanish writer and broadcaster, Arturo Barea.
Now, I have been asked to make a programme for Radio 4 with Overtone Productions, and my question about taking my practice to Spain will in part be answered. I will be retracing my father’s footsteps and creating responses along the way. We have a very short timeframe to make this programme and so I’m thrown into sifting and planning (in ways I am very conscious the exiles couldn’t) the artistic side of my journey.
The job feels vast, and at times overwhelming in the time available – not helped by a brain which likes to canter off in 10 directions at once. Reigning in and staying focused is the thing. Here is where my obsessive nature is hugely beneficial to my work. I dig in and apply myself to the detail.
My feel for the bigger picture is pure intuition – I trust I can make the stages of my journey join up by getting each stage right conceptually speaking. My work is made easier because I can draw on some existing pieces in my growing collection, but I will be making new responses and hoping to bring them all together by the end of the programme.
I’m brimming with gratitude to Overtone Productions for pitching this programme, and feel a weight of responsibility – this is a highly sensitive history. Also lurking is the spectre of inherited trauma – as I probe more deeply into it I gain a firmer grasp on the terror through which this history was suppressed. I hear new information from my mother which confirms it and brings it closer.
I feel my father’s fear as though it were my own. As though it were live.
I conclude that it is. This is what we mean by the term, postmemory. Recent events in Catalonia serve to demonstrate how difficult Spanish history is, how tensions remain from the unresolved legacies of the Civil War.
I won’t really know how to respond until I get to the beach of Barcarès, or until I’m confronted with the entrance to my grandmother’s flat (which she left in 1975) in the Barceloneta. All I can do is plan and pack my suitcases full of artistic possibility.
Each morning I pinch myself anew. Somehow I’ve landed the job of my dreams.