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More progress in my work on Retreat, a piece for Unravelling Time, a group showing inspired by the 12th Century Abbey at Sutton Courtenay, it’s history and environs – running from 20th September to 3rd October.

Yesterday I visited the grave of George Orwell at the church of All Soul’s in Sutton Courtenay. In one fell swoop Gladys and the tea trolly fell by the wayside and a new idea was born. This is very often the way with research based work. You follow a lead, connections are made, you feel your way towards a resolution of your piece and suddenly new information emerges, which changes everything. Sigh…

But Gladys is still with me – the tea trolly is currently nestling in the rafters at the studio – she’s not going anywhere being somewhat of a permanent fixture. It’s just that she’s not coming to the grave. Sorry Gladys it’s just not happening. For one thing the trolly would never survive the journey – I see wheels jarring on the pathway down to George’s graveside and contents flying!

I’m also certain that Gladys, nor I, should impose ourselves on the quiet scene that is George Orwell’s final resting place. But aside from the need for dignity there’s just no call for it. Primary research – actually being there (if there is a physical site to visit) is the most important aspect of research based work. No amount of book work can take you there, where the information of the senses and of intuition is so very immediate.

The story for my online piece is absolutely contained at the gravesite – no question. Perhaps this is unusual – but then the history we’re working with is exceptional. Highly charged, contested still and mired in politics to this day. I doubt, however that I shall often be so gifted with such visual metaphor as I encountered there.

And so my piece is irrevocably changed, and less is so much more. A truism to be applied almost without exception in this otherwise unpredictable process of finalising a long research piece.

SO now I have my online work complete – yes it really did make itself in the presence of George, aka Eric Arthur Blair. My job now is to SIT on it and not let the cat out of the bag before the 20th September! Hard for one addicted to the instant sharing we have access to in our online forums. Zip it Boué I say to myself as I watch my own creation, checking for flaws and re-edits. I find many flaws – but they are integral and it’s the spontaneity and visual purity of the experience that count for everything. Who could have known?

I must also work up my ideas for the PV. This will require a pop-up assemblage piece or performance. Hmm…some time spent online at Moo.com yesterday set the ball rolling. It’s just a question of allowing the pieces to fall into place – oh and again less will be more. The tendency to over-complexify is endless.

Equally, while my online work for Retreat appeared as a gift at the graveside, the two years spent researching my subject (the Spanish Civil War) no doubt helped speed me on my way. Layer upon layer of meaning and resonance are contained within (if you know the period – though some references are highly individual to my own family history).

I’m now excited for the opening and can’t wait to see what the other contributors have been getting up to. Roll on Unravelling Time!

NB I did just make up a word. Over-complexify expresses perfectly what I want to say and I can find no better substitute.


My nights are quite a struggle. This relates to many things far back in my childhood make-up and my genetic inheritance. You can read some recent thoughts about sleep and cortisol on The Other Side my blog about neurodiversity on the link below.


I have to say that menopause doesn’t help. Recently blog sister Elena Thomas https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/nine-women and I have been conversing about how we might open the lid on this somewhat oppressive societal taboo. I took a risk and wrote another blog post called Bloodless


It’s actually been my most popular blog post so far!

All of this has nothing to do with my Retreat project for the Unravelling Time group show or George Orwell, my subject. Except for the fact that during the restless nights George’s head appears to loom above me. Night sweats and limbs that won’t unwind are joined by George, and actually he’s pretty good company. Who else would put up with my endless twists and turns of body and notion. You see my piece about George Orwell’s grave at The All Soul’s church in Sutton Courtenay remains unresolved. I imagine all the other contributors to be way ahead of me in creating their responses to the gorgeous 12th C Abbey, the buildings, grounds and environs of this hugely atmospheric Oxfordshire village.

This is nothing new – I seem to thrive on improvisation, though I do find it nerve wrecking. It happened with my online project in February of 2014 La Retirada, it also happened with my more recent performance Unpacking Exile for the Fringe Arts Bath Festival in May 2015.

It’s not that I don’t prepare in advance – I do. I have a very specific idea for this piece BUT it is complex and the final form remains a mystery to me. I have to do it to know what it will actually be.

Part of our collective responsibility to the Abbey is to respect it as a working building – although we are artists many of whom will make site specific work and exhibit in situ we can’t occupy the space for a clear run between Sept 20th and October 3rd (our project time span). Other artists will work round this inviting the public in on specific dates and times.

I choose instead to think about creating a clear space, one that is accessible at all times and in many locations at one time. I am of course talking virtual. It’s a compelling notion given that so much of my work and presence exists online. Retreat then becomes paradoxically an advance, into a new space. It is also thus redolent in advances in technology and a conversation about cultural dissemination in a new age.

So the layers gather, the nights pass. I see myself as I always did as Gladys, an alter ego who has been with me for quite some time lurking in the shadows. I do love Gladys the tea lady. She too goes back to childhood and may also be in my Brummie DNA. So she’s been in waiting but arrived one day fully formed in my short art play Playa y Toro, written last Winter in response to my father’s theatrical oeuvre.

I made an excerpt from the play in a fragmentary video piece earlier this year. I chose to focus on Gladys’ voice. You can hear her right here:


I may well need to unpick Gladys in the coming weeks as she and I trundle our tea trolly towards our destination.

What came as such a gift in my research on Orwell was his love of tea, actually I acquired my tea trolly precisely for this project, although it’s been a versatile prop, serving in assemblage such as VIGIL 2014.

I’m going to let this blog post settle for now and I plan to return very soon and continue to explore the ideas and layers as Gladys and I try to bring the tea trolly in to land.


So I finally landed after my travels, yet feel I have arrived in another place.

Developing a second online blog space, I’ve begun to take on my neurodiversity and become a self advocate – part of a group of neurodiverse individuals who are trying to make a change in the way neurological variation is viewed and treated. The Other Side can be found here https://soniaboue.wordpress.com/about/

There’s a great overlap, between Barcelona in a Bag and The Other Side, and my conviction that art and neurodiversity intersect seriously and purposively in all manner of ways persists and develops as I move forward in my writing both here and there.

Meanwhile, back on planet art the reality of a group show begins to loom. Magdalen Road Studio http://www.magdalenroadstudios.com artists have been busy for months creating responses to Sutton Courtenay Abbey for a show entitled Unravelling Time http://www.theabbey.uk.com

I’ll be posting details very soon!

On learning about the historical link of Sutton Courtenay with the Spanish Civil War, I knew what my piece would be about. George Orwell, whose birth name was Eric Blair, and was buried almost anonymously in the graveyard at the Church of All Saints, Sutton Courtenay in 1950.

You can read about the history here:


My idea for a piece called Retreat came quickly but it has continued to unfold, deepening and gathering layers.

The title, Retreat, is multi-layered referring strongly to the key function of the Abbey but also encompassing the powerful connection I feel with George Orwell, which is of course the Spanish Civil War. Retreat becomes in Spanish, retirada, and La Retirada is the term used for the retreat of half a million Spaniards at the fall of the Second Republic in 1939.

Within this one word there is a pleasing rr..repeat, and in my skittering brain I hear tea and treat rolled together, forming a perfect associative basis for my piece. I plan to take tea to George Orwell, as his first wife Eileen did when she visited him in Spain. I will take tea with him. I will also make a tribute for him. All three aspects of my action/ performance/ritual will essentially be one and the same.

My idea is not to work with the physical space of the Abbey and it’s environs as to work at one remove conceptually and historically – perhaps even limiting my piece to virtual spaces. I do know the component pieces that will make up this artwork but I’m going down to the wire in knowing how they’ll stack together and WHERE.

Creating a video piece is a real possibility I feel – but at the last minute a live performance in situ may emerge. This is both scary and exciting not knowing!

Last night the fragments of a poem came to me.


Final billet.
Sutton Courtenay,
A Retreat
(from life).
I will bring you strong tea,
To your own recipe.

In Spain,
Eileen brought you tea, chocolate and cigars.
I will feed you madeleines,
For remembrance.

I have a feeling that these words are my structure for the piece. We’ll see.


Wow. Well it’s been quite a journey. Three weeks away, two in Mexico City and one in San Francisco respectively, and one week back in the UK trying to land. It’s a truism to say that travel changes you – but it really really does. Including stuff that’s become too settled – travel not only shifts the scenery about but it also moves your mind. Right now I still don’t feel the full force of return and I continue to think this is a good thing. The holiday hasn’t worn off – I feel like a different version of me. Long may it last!

My reasons for travel were largely family, and there are huge joys and limitations in travelling to Mexico. This is not tourism nor sight-seeing, this is duty and reconnection. There are complex dynamics involving a family member who is seriously unwell. San Francisco was something else – the opportunity to shed it all off and become tourists for a while and meet another branch of my family – the neurodiverse camp out in Berkeley. You can read about that here:


Just before departing Oxford I faced a difficult decision – to leave or take my laptop. Without it, whatever internet connections I could find would be limited to my iPhone. I chose to leave it, and cease blogging, however tempting it would be to write about my experiences on the hoof. I didn’t regret this, and in time began to relish the time I spent entirely offline. Being so internet dependent in my practice (research, support networks and blogging) gives me huge benefits but also there is a down side – the balance with real time becomes tricky sometimes. Habits become entrenched and internet use can begin to interfere with your capacity to interact face to face. My time away was an opportunity to feel the difference and appreciate connection in real time.

My one cultural foray in Mexico City was to see Mexican performance artist Lorena Wolffer’s work at the Museo de Arte Moderno


This proved to be an intensely moving experience. Lorena works with the subject of violence against women and as I viewed all the various exhibits for her showing at the museum their cumulative power came crashing down on me. The photographs at the top of the page are so dark because they are taken inside a tiny memorial chapel in which the names of female victims scrolled down a projected screen. This was where I sank down on the only available chair (I think the attendant had gone to stretch their legs) and wept. The artist in me thought to take a selfie of this profound moment – I wanted to capture and remember it. These tears are real, this violence is real, these bodies are real…

Lorena’s practice is extremely varied and with time I plan to study more – though I did spend a good while piggy backing on a family member’s pc in Mexico to go through her youtube appearances that evening. What I took from her work was her willingness to take on others wounds and to enact healing rituals. I asked myself if an artist can stand in for others and I realised that this is what I myself do in performance when I channel family members who are now dead and it becomes more generalised to the Spanish exiles as a body of people, including imaginary members. Like the infant who may have worn this night dress – my stand in child victim during the Unpacking Exile performance at the Bath Fringe Festival 2015.

The healing rituals Lorena enacts are also fascinating to me. I too relate to what she does (though in her case naming and specificity are a real feature) – what are my performances with shrine assemblages if not healing rituals. We highlight, mourn and heal all at once. This is not to “make it okay” for the violence to be perpetrated in the first place, but part of something else. What else is the thing I have been unconsciously chewing on ever since. I’m extremely grateful to Mexican performance artist, Veronica Cordova de la Rosa, for sharing a link today on FaceBook, to Doris Salcedo, Columbian artist, talking to Tim Marlow about her work show at the White Cube,’A Flor de Piel’ and ‘Plegaria Muda’.


What enviable eloquence and what brilliance. She too works with violence, memory and tribute. These pieces especially ‘A Flor de Piel’ are gorgeous in execution and intensely layered in conception. I also loved Salcedo’s bearing throughout this interview – her gravity and clarity are notable and generate a powerful presence.

Doris solved the ‘what else’ question I have been asking myself ever since seeing Lorena’s show. What I take from her is her insistence that of course we can do nothing. We can’t stop the violence and killing, it will always recur, but we must remember every single death, each individual who has been killed. It is only through these acts that we can remain human.

This journey, this art practice and my time offline all make sense to me now. At core my work and my life is about the struggle to become and to remain human. Standing in contrast to the violence and injustices that rage around me. At core this is why although at times it seems pointless (I can’t halt the “dehumanising” actions of others) my work feels vital and compelling. This is at core why – although at times I am tempted to move on – I can’t give up. As Doris says – it is our obligation. This is my obligation.

The only real questions are not whether to continue but how – how to make my work respectfully, how to make it well, and how to engage and not repel my audience with the material I seek to cover. This is the lifetime of work I hope I have left within me, and I hope to do it and to do it well.