For this blog post you need to know that my father was José Garcia Lora and that this was my family name.
There’s been a gap in blogging. This happens when life takes over. So it’s been since taking Without You I Would Not Exist to University College Cork (UCC) for the annual WiSPS conference hosted by the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies (SPLAS) and attending a Spanish Civil War (SCW) day at the Oxford University’s Rewley House. I left both feeling that artists need conferences – we need exposure to multi-disciplinary approaches to our subjects and the opportunity to connect what we are doing to academia (if that’s where our subjects also have a life). They provide a feast of ideas and inspiration and can be the ultimate creative nourishment.
The effect of such exposure has been quite extraordinary – though what I’m about to blog can in many ways also be seen as the culmination of 18 months hard slog on Barcelona in a Bag in my quest to bring into being a body of work which can reflect and disseminate something of the Spanish exile experience in England as a result of the Spanish Civil War. My project is also to create a dialogue with my father through his own creative project – the plays he wrote in the 1950s and 1960s. My work is research based and encompasses object art, painting, performance and writing.
The photograph at the top of the page is a screen capture on my iPhone from a Catalan documentary Camp d’Argelers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoS25xZ3oFU The film was kindly passed on to me by Raf Jaime Phd candidate at (SPLAS/UCC) whose work on the Retirada and ’emotional geography’ shares a certain territory with Barcelona in a Bag. The still was captured at 19.51 minutes and represents a moment of such magnitude within my own emotional geography that I became moved to share it with a delightful contact made at the Rewley House SCW day. Gijs Van Hensbergen, art historian and Picasso specialist (chef and hispanist also) gave a barnstormingly brilliant talk on Guernica and has been most generous in showing interest in this project and viewing Without You. This is what happened.
The image rolled across my eyes as all the preceding ones had but something in my brain signalled recognition and commanded my finger to press pause. I am not hugely co-ordinated and I was too slow to catch the fish swimming before me. Clumsily I found the rewind option and readied myself to pounce and reel in what my brain was now telling me was not exactly a fish but possibly my father. I found the frame and noticed above the clamour of my rapidly beating heart that this figure so fleetingly present in the film was standing exactly as my father would, it had been the gait my brain had registered. Now slowed to a still I was able to assemble the other information I needed to make my identification. The figure I believe is my father is standing almost centre ‘stage’ with his back to the camera, observing the other men smiling at the camera and making the republican salute.
As I poured over the image I made a check list against my first response to this visual stimuli, an emotional certainty rather than anything I can prove factually. The gait is strikingly his, the dark curly hair matches, he is the right height and we know he was there, at Camp Argelès. I scan and re scan, knowing in my heart it is he, until I notice something extraordinary. The young republican I’m looking at has a book or a notebook tucked under his arm. Dad, I breathe, as this is his signature move. A bookish young man, a budding intellectual, an aspiring writer and, at this time a Republican journalist, he can be seen in some of the surviving photographs of the period with a book tucked under his arm.
Let’s pause and rewind to my journey to Cork. After Rewley House came Cork, my second visit in the space of a year to SPLAS at the kind invitation of Dr Helena Buffery, whose expertise, generosity, and friendship are key to the project. Her book Stages of Exile http://www.peterlang.com/index.cfm?event=cmp.ccc.seitenstruktur.detailseiten&seitentyp=produkt&pk=58508 has quite simply transformed my understanding of my father’s work. On the plane I fell into a reverie and my mind began a species of automatic knitting in which fragments of the project became the opening sequences of a stage piece. A what! Yes indeed, a very curious hybrid beast but a stage piece nonetheless, in which characters from my blog and those from my father’s early plays, A Bull for Antonio and The Captive Land (Tierra Cautiva) join together as a cast of players. Elements of my object work and poetic verse (inspired by Lorca’s arrangements of folk songs and Falla’s Amor Brujo) double up as props or performances within a more orchestrated theatrical piece. I was completely astonished, yet when I returned to Oxford I began to write what I am avoiding calling a play.
Fast forward to the day I find my father at “Camp Argelers”. That morning was slow – though perhaps it is only in retrospect that I see it cinematically in slow mo. I had been waiting for some days for Gij’s Biography of Guenica http://www.gijsvanhensbergen.com/#!books/cnec to arrive through the post. Annoyingly it had been diverted to the depot that very morning. I went to collect it on my way to the studio and on arrival I opened it randomly on a page in which I saw for the first time the touching shrine made to Federico Garcia Lorca in the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Expo in Paris – the same Expo at which Guernica was first shown. I stopped in my tracks. I had been reading Professor Maria Delgado’s brilliant deconstruction of the mythology surrounding Lorca in her book Federico Garcia Lorca http://www.mariadelgado.co.uk/book_federico_garcia_lorca.htm, and finally facing the elephant in the Garcia Lora family’s room. Although I had blogged about NOT being Lorca I had gone no further with Lorca up until now feeling him to be an overwhelming figure.
So it was with a sense of cosmic cogs whirring that I reflected on this early sanctification of Lorca and my decision to brave the Lora/Lorca issue and write my performance piece under the imaginary auspices of The NOT Lorca Theatre Company. I was not prepared however for my father to appear 19.51 minutes later on my laptop screen when in fit of deep prevarication about the writing I made an impulsive decision to click on the link that Raf sent me.
This is the first time dad has appeared in this particular kind of documentary material and the only photograph to emerge so far of this stage in his exile journey. I have to say that he has turned up before but not like this.
I once found him smiling at me in a search of Natalia Benjamin’s collection of photographs of the Basque Children and Colonies at her home in Oxford. Perhaps my favourite discovery was in the pages of Luis Montferer Catalan’s Odisea in Albion http://books.google.es/books/about/Odisea_en_Albión.html?id=Cvoq6SmFfnwC in which there are several informative and sympathetic entries taken from interviews with dad’s best friend Pepe Estruch. Dad also pops up in Max Aub’s diaries , in which my poor father’s depression is given an especially cruel shove by Aub. They were a somewhat jarring discovery coming from a man my father so admired and revered and it has taken some time for me to forgive Aub. For these appearance we are best off remembering that depression was not well understood in this era. Dad also exists as an obituary writer for Albert Jimenez Fraud’s (Director of La Residencia) son Manolo who died unexpectedly in 1978 http://elpais.com/diario/1978/04/01/cultura/260233205_850215.html, which I seem to remember helping dad type up as he had broken his wrist.
I have come to think of these sightings as cameos or walk on parts and of my father’s life containing many striking theatrical elements. He always seemed to be part of someone else’s story, he had associated with so many of the Spanish exiled literary figures of his time and yet he remained unknown. He was there and yet not and I came to think that this is how he felt – that this was the substance of his exile.
So it was that the sudden appearance ‘centre stage’ in “Camp Argeler” – albeit with his back turned – signified such a dramatic shift. It is probably the reason I found myself writing dad’s character into Playa y Toro the piece that is emerging from the recently formed NOT Lorca Theatre Company. Time will tell what will become of it! I am so conscious that I am a visual artist not a playwright, and yet the experience of reading only four of dad’s plays convinces me he that was an intensely visual thinker, and my work now is in response to this as a deeply connecting creative faculty. Writing this piece has been both joyful and terrifying. I can see why dad was enthralled by the stage (it is enormously satisfying), yet I can now understand how exposing it is, how much of yourself you must risk. Many a slip twixt pen and stage.
So because I am a visual artist and because I’m not sure if what I’m creating is theatre I also envisage Playa y Toro being sucked back through the vortex of visual art and re-emerging as a multi-media installation or a more abstract film piece.
My abiding worry of course is what dad would think of the mash-up I’m creating (a form of assemblage if you will). I always return to the same answers. I’m sure he would be pleased I’m trying to disseminate this narrative, I know he would get my take on it – he just would. I wish he was here to tell me when I take a wrong turn with his material. As it is I’m just so grateful his work survives and if what I’m up to now creates a pathway into the original sources, my job will be done.