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Abuela (grandmother) and I continue our unpacking here at a-n and it’s time to write again at Barcelona in a Bag!

The parallel blog over at The Museum for Object Research has had Abuela and I pretty busy up until now, ‘but we have to tell them about the handbag’ Abuela reminds me, blinking in the afternoon sun. You see it’s hot in Barcelona right now. ‘Our a-n friends don’t know about the bag’ she insists, pushing back her wavy grey bob and wiping her brow. ‘The thing won’t write itself!’

Okay I smile, and watch as she makes her way towards the cooler part of the flat. Hmm…what’s it to be, I wonder. ‘Lemonade!’ she calls back seeming to read my thoughts, and not for the first time I muse. ‘Post the poem!’ she calls again as she disappears through the kitchen door, snatching her apron from the hook. Ah yes, time for the poem, which kicked the whole project off, a poem which wrote itself in the giddy days after inheriting Abuela’s handbag. The days when Abuela appeared to me again after nearly forty years of silence.

I read the poem again now, nearly 18 months into my project and still marvel at the power of the object to bridge such a gap, to undo the irrevocable and conjure the time, the person and the place I thought was lost to me forever.

Barcelona in a Bag

Sitting on mother’s shelf
Housing the euros and the francs
And the cancelled passports
It sat emitting messages,

“My time was then but it is also now
Come, claim your histories, your map!”

Too heavy then for grandma’s arm,
Bought with a vigour, by your hands now frail
Unknowing how w/eighty-six would be.
A real handbag! You thought.

But it Smart/ed in her hand,
And finally the bag came to me.

Now, abuzz with interference, a large radio-player,
A boom box with a heartbeat.
The handling so right,
Nestling under my arm.

My smoothed-haired dachshund of a bag.
The longed-for remembering’s yap
That summons thirteen years of Summer.

Now is the time to draw on her.
What innards! And her pale lining unfurls
A recipe for cinnamon sand.

It runs through your fingers,
The sweet smell lingers
It’s time for cinnamon sand!

It’s flan of a bag, my crema catalana
To your creme brulee.
On a maritime stroll her buckle winks and flashes
Morse code.

I am the baton, I am the beat.
The fuzz of time is nothing to me.

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I’m excited to unpack Barcelona in a Bag in a new blog space. Transferring from an artist’s page on FaceBook is an action imbued with mixed emotions. I’ve loved every minute of gathering a community of friends around my project through the comment facility on FaceBook and hope that this spirit will travel. Of course I’ll be linking up the two blogs but the heart of my artistic practice will reside here at a-n. My dream would be for project friends to gather here too and continue to cheer Abuela and I on as before. I left the FaceBook blog last week with a tear stained hankie in my hand.

Rather than run all my old FaceBook blog posts here – although I will dig into the archive at times and my next post will focus on the project’s beginnings with my grandmother’s (Abuela’s) handbag – I’m planning a new phase for the project and hope that those who would like to catch the back catalogue will browse through the FaceBook page https://www.facebook.com/BarcelonaInABag .

So for those who don’t know me, who am I and what do I do? I’m Sonia Boué – an artist whose practice has developed through professional training in both Art History and Art Therapy. I began as an abstract painter but recently developed a practice based on working with objects as containers of memory and an unfolding narrative in relation to a family history that is steeped in the Spanish Civil War.

I work with objects to create assemblage pieces and installations, and have latterly begun to develop a performative side to my work. The photograph for my first blog is a new element in an installation made for Magdalen Road Studios Open Door Open Studios this coming weekend 13th-14 September.

The installation has many diverse pieces which reflect different aspects of my practice. This one harks back to my Hell in the Sand series from February 2014, inspired by the photographs of Robert Capa taken in Argelès sue Mer internment camp in March of 1939 during the Retirada – the retreat from Spain by defeated republicans. This new piece calls on Russian television footage of the aftermath of a much later ‘natural’ disaster – the 2004 Tsunami of Thailand. Here rather than transpose individual domestic items to an anonymous sandy location I imagine the sand penetrating a home and upending the calm of a domestic interior. It’s an idea I’m developing to try to say something about the continuing effects of dislocation and exile.

New readers, of which I hope there will be many, will soon discover that I seem to thrive on making connections with all manner of knowledge fragments and visual inputs gathered in a non-linear fashion. My challenge is always to make a coherent and visually satisfying piece from all the disparate elements I tend to garner up along my way in any project.

That’s probably all for now, but watch this space for news of a new film called Without You I Would Not Exist, a collaboration with the multi-talented Jonathan Moss, more of which very soon. AND please check in for the origins of my overarching project, Barcelona in a Bag, in my next blog.

Wow, did I just finish my first blog on a-n? I think I did.