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I tend to speak from the heart and this blog is no exception. Excuse me if I go a bit Oscars acceptance speech on you, but I want to acknowledge the wonderful supportive network of artists I’ve encountered on Twitter and their significance to the project. Who knew! Probably, one of the best decisions I have made in recent years, creatively speaking, was to join Twitter and follow the artists whose work I liked and who seemed friendly. This has been an incredible source of inspiration and support, a forum where ideas and woes are exchanged and the most fabulous images grace the eye at the speed of a click (or rather now that images are visible in the feed automatically you simply scroll to feast the eye).

I’ve gained highly valued and warm connections – intersecting creative lives touch gently and yet often profoundly. Direct Messaging creates private spaces in which to take the conversation further – and meetings in ‘real’ life sometimes follow. Some artists form longer lasting connections and others pass though, sometimes to emerge again after time but often not. Nonetheless their presence remains memorable for the kindness and interest shown, and the gratitude expressed when this is mutual and you feel moved to say how much you like and ‘get’ what they have presented online.

I want to thank them all, but also be specific in this shout out to some notable Twitter artists whose presence has been especially meaningful. I can’t describe the joy at arriving at an unknown venue to perform for Fringe Arts Bath and find three artist Twitter friends (never met before in real life) waiting for me. They have all followed my project and knew the context for this potentially indecipherable piece for the uninitiated – it helped immensely to know you would understand. Jenni Dutton, Malcolm Ashman and Louis Hawkins it was wonderful to meet you, introduce you to each other and tell you how great I think your work is. I recommend readers to view below, such gorgeous work must be seen.

http://www.jennidutton.com

http://www.malcolmashman.com/home.html

http://www.bathartistsstudios.co.uk/louis-hawkins.html

Online interest in and support for the piece from Inger Karthum and Patricia Volk was wonderful too. Both were present in our conversations and contributed comments via social media and their work can be seen on the links below.

http://www.ingerkarthum.net

http://www.patriciavolk.co.uk

The incredible Elena Thomas is never far from my thoughts these days forging ahead with her #Nine Women project and supporting when she can, passionately and with enthusiasm always – her comments have meant a great deal over the past few months in the run up to my performance.

http://www.elenathomas.co.uk 

JD Scott, Jo Hatty and Martin Heron are my touchstones for kindness and respectful engagement. Along with Kate Murdoch, Malcolm Ashman, Patricia Volk, Inger Karthum and Julie Newton have contributed art responses either to my project  or to my studios.

http://www.johatty.com

http://www.katemurdochartist.com

https://jdartistportfolio.wordpress.com

http://www.axisweb.org/p/martinheron/

http://julie-newton.blogspot.co.uk

Martin Olsson has also been a huge support with the project and in particular the painting side of my practice, which recently took off in a new direction.

http://www.graysartgallery.com/Martin-Olsson/

Finally, but most importantly I want to thank my art blog sister Marion Michell, whose support for the project and deep friendship have been rock like. Daily bulletins and advice on some of the key creative decisions gave me the confidence to move forward and finalise my piece. Without Marion’s extraordinary grasp of my work through her unwavering interest and own carefully honed professional practice it would have been a lesser thing, of that I am sure. Her work is currently on show and her blog is not to be missed. Follow the links below.

https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/sleep-drunk-i-dance

https://www.facebook.com/pages/R-Space-at-The-Linen-Rooms-Lisburn/136430209770808?pnref=story

 


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This blog post, comes hot on the heels of my last critical post on The Waiting Room: Spanish Exile in the United Kingdom exhibition at the Cervantes Institute in London. I found the exhibition a hugely challenging experience on both a personal and a creative level. This was not an exile story I could relate to, but an officially sanitised version in which the ‘important bits” had been left out. Faced head on with the weight of historical denial my resolve to keep going with my post memory project was all but crushed that day. Writing that piece and publishing a countervailing perspective  has been an important move in rallying phoenix-like but momentarily I knew exactly how it felt to be erased. So I am joyful for the silver side of this internet age (for now at least and in some parts of the globe – we need only look to China to see how it could be). What a contrast with the information dam my father and his generation faced in this pre-tech era. Yet they kept going in so many creative and multi-stranded ways – of course I must do the same, in my own small way.

They are therefore wholly related blog posts as these images come from a performance piece entitled UNPACKING EXILE for the Fringe Arts Bath festival. I enact the gagging by the Franco regime and continued suppression of memory in the contemporary with a silent performance and taped-up mouth,  yet speak for the victims with objects and hands as I mount my ‘shrine’ to my Republican family members. I am, of course, honouring all victims and use family in the larger sense too. During the performance I channel my muses with music through earphones, which my audience cannot hear. I am taped up and sealed in by sound, cut off (in an exile of sorts) but also transported to the zone in which I create all my work for this project.

I am very grateful to curator Nimmi Naidoo for providing the impetus to create this piece, and the space to enact this performance ritual with a receptive and highly engaged audience. An artist can ask for no more. I have found a performative space (within me and in the actual) which is powerful and does translate.  For me performance has become a diving deep within myself, a zoning out and tuning in – a public display of the most intimate process.

It’s becoming clear that the nature of my project means that I don’t just make art, I live it and breathe it. I am my art and my art is me. Me is exile – my voice is an exiled voice. In performance – you the audience and I – we (if I can take you with me) become momentarily exile voices.

I will henceforth be seeking new audiences and venues for performances of ritual tributes and will embrace and develop further this side of my practice.

 

 


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A response to The Waiting Room: Spanish Exile in the United Kingdom, at the Cervantes Institute London (27th April to 30th June).

 

This piece in response to The Waiting Room is written from the self-avowedly personal. Readers of my blog will know that am a daughter and artist, whose project and mission is to create a body of work, which reflects a Spanish Republican’s exile in England from a second generation perspective. This means I work with the concept of post memory and that my vista is singular. I can speak to my own truths only, an important admission in an area of contested memory.

For the Spanish Civil War remains a history unresolved and largely buried under almost 80 years of politically orchestrated amnesia, which brings to mind classic fairytales in which principal characters think nothing of one hundred years lost in profound slumber. Tragically, this was no tale but a brutal and bloody reality, a shattering blow to Spain and it’s people which continues to reverberate to this day. It is almost impossible to convey to a British public the complex and delicate undercurrents, which still exist in telling my story and the political nature of everything I create. As I have said before, sometimes a landscape is not a landscape – it is rather an abstracted essay on the civil war.

It’s a serious business and responsibility to bring this silencing and it’s sequels to public attention even in a small way. My father felt erased by the dictatorship and negotiation of democracy through a pact of forgetting, and my project is to draw him back in as best I can. I imagined The Waiting Room might share this aim for its exiles, but I encountered something other and at times confusing, reflecting the greater confusion at hand and the many dilemmas in interpretation and presentation of this conflict. I think though it is at heart an attempt at celebration and for this reason despite numerous reservations it can be welcomed as one interpretation of one strand in this unending story rather than a definitive version of Spanish exile in the UK.

It is a project created by IC Communication in partnership with the Cervantes Institute, whose stated function is “to promote the Spanish language and cultures of Spanish-speaking countries.” The self proclaimed aim for the show is to “recreate a story about the Spanish Exiles in the United Kingdom that underlines their importance and contribution to the history of the country that hosted this disparate group of individuals.” This goes a long way to explaining a lack of depth to the Spanish context on offer and gap regarding contested memory. There is an 8 week programme of cultural events surrounding the exhibition, during which it may be possible to address contemporary memory issues. I hope so.

http://www.publicartonline.org.uk/whatsnew/projects/article.php/The+Waiting+Room+

We are further invited not to focus on the usual association of exile as a forced condition and view it in psychological terms, which it is suggested may be adopted depending on our adherence to or separation from prevailing values, becoming ourselves potentially species of exiles even though we may be geographically free. This is an observation not so far from my own growing understanding that there are many forms of exile – while remaining absolute in my belief that this exile must be lodged securely in it’s political context. Furthermore, I insist that it is problematic to view exile as a wholly comparable psychological state in the absence of force in that it serves to belittle and diminish the effects of the forced state.

I am interested however in the celebratory spirit at play in a focus on exile and identity, whose avowed aim is to enlighten and enable marginal and alienated psychological states in the modern world. The notion here suffers from a lack of specificity but is well worth exploring. Some clues are present. The term global citizens is thrown in and we are given the delight of Gloria García Lorca as an example of the exile as global citizen. It was actually the highlight of the show for me to encounter this artist, who must of course be considered – if this is not oxymoronic – Republican royalty. Her work is truly wonderful.

http://gloriagarcialorca.com/about-this-site/

It was a surprise to find the documentary element of the show presented with what for me was an overwhelmingly slick corporate design. It dominated the space and was in my mind at odds with the personal nature and fragility of some of the documentary material.  I found it imposing and institutional the kind of exhibition furniture used increasingly by museums in which “official versions” of history are so often presented. My own guiding principle is to try never to speak for Republican exiles as a whole, for although theirs was a shared history in a larger sense, the detail of each individual case surely mattered greatly in determining the quality and emotional texture of that exile.

In truth the number of Spanish exiles to the United Kingdom was extremely small, due in large part to the British government’s policy of “neutrality”, which in fact assisted Franco’s military defeat of the democratically elected Second Republic and therefore was not neutral at all. Yet it was still varied. The close to 4,000 Basque children evacuated in the aftermath of Guernica, mentioned in passing here but well documented elsewhere, were exceptional and their safe passage to England was hard won by a philanthropic and humanitarian volunteer network. The exiles at the Cervantes Institute are those whose passage from Spain was in the main eased through connections and largely spared the horrors of the French internment camps of 1939 from which my father and his friends were rescued, again through exceptional altruism by an English volunteer. Not all who found refuge remained in England, but passed through to live out their exiles elsewhere, or in some cases over time were able to make a circuitous return to Spain.

Without You I Would Not Exist is a film collaboration with Jonathan Moss about my father’s rescue.

http://www.soniaboue.co.uk/section792894.html

My father was amongst a group of forever exiles to England, for want of a better phrase. Life long exile can exude particular qualities I’ve found. “Unrivalled strategies” didn’t feature much at home, but resignation and the despair of an ordinary man trying to get on with the business of living permeated every minute of every hour. Dad was perhaps unusual in the depth of his longing for the life that could have been – but any exploration of exile must reach successfully into the darkest corners of the human psyche. I suppose that what I am trying to say is that this exhibition doesn’t wholly speak for me, doesn’t speak for my father and the despairing quality of his exile, although his history was bound up with some of it’s major players many of whom he knew and admired. Where in this exhibition is the uncomfortable truth that exile strategies can fail and that the inner world of the exile may crumble inexorably? Violent displacement has consequences.

It takes a lot of time to properly absorb this extraordinarily complex history, and my studies into the context for my father’s exile are in their infancy. Only two years ago my post memory odyssey began on inheriting my Spanish grandmother’s handbag. A cache of Proustian memories engulfed me and all my childhood travels to Spain, not knowing the circumstance that brought my father to live in England, tumbled out. If I have learnt anything it is that while the true integration of this fratricidal history is unresolved there is a sense of continuing threat to dissonant voices and a co-opting of narratives into officialdom.

The underlying truth of The Waiting Room is that the execution (of Federico García Lorca, among countless others), and expulsion of so many talented intellectuals as those featured here, drained the country of it’s intellectual life’s blood as policy. It’s not that the exiles were simply forgotten, it is rather that they were expunged from memory quite deliberately through strategic censorship and terror. The trouble with remembering is that there remain vested interests in forgetting.

But how should we remember? Inevitably we are interested in the documentary/memorabilia attached to exiled figures as a way of reaching into the lives of those we come to know through their works. It is a form of admiration and fleshing out – it can also be the evidence that strengthens narrative. There are some important documents beneath glass at The Waiting Room but also a photographic intervention “Archive and Memory” by Jordi Ruiz Cirera, which runs above the archival cabinets along one of the exhibition walls, through which we are invited to ponder the “wider context of recorded personal history.”  This is usefully employed and highly effective. We must be careful with the hows and the whys of the ways in which we display personal material and do so ethically and with good purpose. These considerations should guide the quality and tone of explanatory text, to create a cohesive match between document and curatorial voice. I blame any disconnect in The Waiting Room’s tone and presentation on the absence of sufficient and relevant context, robbing it of the requisite depth for this story. Elements perforce remain untold and I was left wanting more. I hope that The Waiting Room’s undoubted initiative and energy can provide a springboard for  other voices to be heard. It must not be viewed as “job done’ on Spanish exile in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Still from the video Hell in the Sand 2015 

Visual thinkers can just click on the link if preferred – but there is a vertigo warning with this video. Those who like words, do click the link but also feel free to read on.

HELL IN THE SAND 2015

https://youtu.be/Ea-dLTlWZuc

Okay, it’s time to confess to something of a major obsession with iMovie. I notice that often this word is used pejoratively, sometimes jokingly or self mockingly even. That I must ‘confess’ at all suggests obsessions are something worth hiding, perhaps for fear of judgement.

For to become obsessed is indeed, I think, considered unhealthy if not unhinged, and a sign that one has lost control. Having a grip on oneself and on life are what we are taught to strive for – and yet ‘obsessions’ are precisely what drive my artistic practice and allow me to push into new areas of exploration, and in the process I find the motivation to develop new skill sets. Skills which might otherwise be impossible for me to acquire due to SpLD (Specific Learning Disability). And when I’m learning in this way I go full out. No half measures, no off switch. I have to push through until the creative process has played out, until I have reached saturation point and can step back (albeit temporarily and until the next bout of inspiration strikes).

So engaged am I with my project as a rule, that it only takes a new idea or technique/format such as iMovie to turn the switch to full power. So let’s call this kind of obsessive activity what it is – a learning style. Simple.

Let’s rewind then and begin again. This month I have been learning how to use iMovie. My output has been pretty high, creating videos with new photos and trawling my archive to bring to life the early moments and origins of my two year project. The result is a YouTube channel which has ignited after laying dormant for a year or so and a website homepage cluttered with video links (note to self – tidy homepage!)

I’m learning all the time with iMovie – my ability to conjure extreme focus when engaged in creative practice allows me to think a little bit more like a video-maker with each short film I make. The template is intuitive and easy to manipulate once you get the hang, and the possibilities for visual narrative seem to me (at this early stage) expansive.

So I have moved swiftly from the need to ‘illustrate’ a visually imagined poem in which the poetic narrative was both visually told and verbally inserted (quite literally) to an understanding of the beauty and power of visual storytelling alone in this form. Quickly indeed (overnight it seemed) and by a happy technical accident using old iPhone captures and a default setting on iMovie, I reached an epiphany that brings you Hell in the Sand 2015. In which, the ken panning mode on auto allowed a second, what I will call vestibular, narrative to be told. Let me fill you in on the story.

The continual conflation of the 1939 Spanish exiles to England with the Basque Children of 1937 among the small (in national terms) circles of cognoscenti about this history continues to haunt and trouble me. At a conference only days ago I was told that my father’s exile story (and that of his compatriots) had been well researched and known about – as about fifteen years of study had been devoted entirely to it. This referred of course to the marvellous work of the Association of Basque Children ’37. It was not the first time that this confusion had arisen and I was able to untangle it in the Q&A session. But the conflation often remains (as my story is untold) and the implication remained at the conference that the Basque children’s story is well known when I am certain it is not (in national terms). Recovery of the national memory and our witness to these separate strands of our exile stories are so important. Otherwise the exiles of ’39 continue to be erased, surely.

And so it was a gift to be able to weave together the 1939 internment camp narrative I had worked on in February 2014 with the Basque Children’s sea sick rescue on the ship the Havana in May 1937. Thus I conflate and separate the two strands – detangling and entwining with each rock – moaning like a sea sick sailor with each lurch of dear old ken pan. I am also delighted to have made my first conceptual piece. Not documenting, not packaging, but immersing the viewer in the process of my studio assemblage through the window of a compelling, at once lulling and yet repelling vestibular experience. It’s more direct I feel.

But the warning on this video is serious. Through my prolonged viewing in the edit process I developed vertigo and wobbled around my house like the drunken sailor of the old song. In this sense I guess my obsession wasn’t so healthy – put me in the longboat until I’m sober…

 

 


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