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This blog post attempts to expand my thoughts and understanding of performance art, as it relates to my own practice but also in relation to others.

I’m currently developing a performance piece for an academic context. I’m delighted to have been invited by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures Research Forum, at Bangor University, to perform and talk about my work. As well as pushing on in performance terms, I’ll be investigating the links between memory, body and neurology.

The piece is called, The Sadness of Being Nothing, which I blogged about a little in my last post here, and on The Other Side. The following links give details about the origins of the piece.

https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/barcelona-in-a-bag/post/52430417

https://soniaboue.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/the-sadness-of-being-nothing/

It’s going to tie together my post-memory work and my work on neurodiversity, but it also gives me a chance to think more deeply about performance.

Last week I was lucky enough to see a brief performance, at Brookes University, by artist Poppy Jackson, and to hear her talk about her work and influences. Poppy works with the female body and cites artists such as Frida Kahlo, Tracy Emin and Carolee Schneemann as women artists who have a strong bearing on her practice. It was a truly thought provoking experience as Poppy’s work is extremely challenging, in many ways compelling, but not without problematic elements I felt. How to use the female body in radical, and even violent ways (albeit with a reinterpretation of the meaning of violence as a natural force for creation) without unwittingly fetishising or objectifying? How to tread the line between critiquing and mimicking aspects of the very cultural norms you seek to challenge?

The interesting thing about art performance is that it occupies a neutral zone, where conventions of taste are pushed beyond usual boundaries, but nonetheless it exists alongside commercial image making and is tied to the art industry. This performance zone, which exists at one remove from mainstream culture cannot ultimately exist in splendid isolation. For example, the internet provides a space where images of women can be accessed indiscriminately and viewed out of context. This is not wholly unproblematic.

That it is a female artist manipulating her own body, and controlling where the viewer’s gaze may fall and on what selected acts however, carries an important bearing on the difficulties outlined above, separating this privileged zone from commercial representations of the female body. Subversion is indisputably taking place. The artist seeks to enact, transform and provoke. I think that she succeeds.

There is much to learn from the powerful engagement in Poppy’s practice and the commitment to self exposure and personal challenge. Another vital way in which to understand performance is not only as an act for the viewer but also as an act for the artist. Performance has the power to transform us, not only during the act but in the longer term. These are moments of heightened awareness, with the potential to bring lasting insight. Performance, like any other art from is the development of language. It is also the wresting of power. Through it, we speak and are untouchable (in the zone), conventional form is powerless against us. This growing realisation on my part makes performance possible as both gentle protest and a more vigorous subversion. It is the artist’s choice.

Catching up with Poppy’s website I realised that the work shared on the day was carefully selected, and that some of her more challenging work goes beyond my own personal comfort zone. My subject is not the female body – but rather displacement, more specifically exile, rooted in a history and now also in neurological difference. Nonetheless, she inspires me to focus and evolve. Commitment to performance can never be half-hearted, I always prepare meticulously – but there’s always room for more more thought, and the potential to take it just a little bit further.

My thanks go to Mexican performance artist Veronica Cordova and her colleague Peta Lloyd, for the opportunity to view this work.


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Being a multi-form artist is a challenge. It’s also the MOST satisfying development in my creative career. Before branching out as a research based artist, working on themes of exile in my on-going post memory project, I was an abstract painter, concerned with colour and form. This passion has resurfaced in the painting side of my practice recently, where colour is again re-emerging as a concern along with texture.

My period suitcase obsession fuels these painterly explorations and my studio time is spent layering, sanding, applying textural mediums and reworking. It’s the most joyful struggle to bring a painting home, as it were. To complete it. To bring something into being that (for now) is the best it can be, is both compulsion and pleasure. I’m echoing the traces of history on the suitcase surfaces, transmitting memory, capturing it for other’s to see. This give me purpose and spurs me on.

Video work sometimes takes over and I usually get on a roll, pushing ideas this way and that, producing a flurry of filmlets. By this means I also increase my recently developed skill – though I could probably do with training and better equipment. Yet something tells me I have to learn this my way as my learning style is generally auto-didactic and a certain obsessionality allows me to overcome technical barriers little by little.

But I’m not in video mode right now. The studio is cold these days, the light is poor and my mind is elsewhere. I’m pretty focused on painting. Choosing off-cut boards from the local building merchant fits my practice perfectly. Improvisation is a core feature of everything I do, and I love to find surfaces that can suggest themselves to me. They’re often quirky, and rarely are two the same, though you can always find familial relationships between off-cuts. Some come from the same batch of board, or have similar proportions, but each is usually unique. I’m working with the idea of the painted sketch too – when the surface feels more provisional – and looking forward to exhibiting these process pieces.

So I ‘ve been painting, but I’ve also been developing a performance piece for the, School of Modern Languages and Cultures Research Forum, at Bangor University. Performance is actually the least developed form in my artistic practice to date. It takes me a long time to build up to performance, and I need a specific reason to create one, like the wonderful invitations I’ve had to perform in academic contexts particularly, where my work ties in with an area of study or a theme. Each invitation provides an opportunity to work on a new piece and gain a sense of what performance means for me.

There’s also crossover, where video work becomes performance too. This is starting to happen as I explore my neurological status and push forward into new territory. Actually art performance is a perfect medium for someone like me. I’ve suffered all my life with paralysing stage fright – I now understand that this is born of neurological difference and wholly to do with the need for a coherence in verbal language on command, which is a genuine biological block – brain can’t do. Difficulty with working memory and word retrieval in the moment, create a real barrier to conventional performance, but I’ve found that performance based on the symbolic visual act (particularly when manipulating objects) comes naturally to me. This is the language I’ve been waiting for and now I relish exploring it’s parameters when given the opportunity. Though I select my performance spaces carefully. My work is so intimate that spaces must nurture.

So my performance for Bangor digs deep into my post memory research, and deep into some of the more painful aspects of my family history. I will be referencing this obliquely, as the thrust of the piece is a more general meditation on exile, which spans over time from 1939 -2015, to encompass the current refugee crisis. The title of my piece, The Sadness of Being Nothing, refers to displacement; a silencing, a becoming invisible to birth culture, an expulsion from it’s history.

It’s about journey and it’s weight, journey and it’s traces.

I will be creating an action with a suitcase filled with symbolic objects. I’m not sure yet whether I will create a shrine, as I usually do. My intention is always to transform experience, speak to history and attempt ritual healing. This time it feels a little different and I may need to leave the piece more open, but that’s one of the interesting things about live performance when your spirit is one of improvisation. You never know exactly what you’ll do.

It’s a brilliant feeling when all the elements that make up your practice start to come together in your own mind, so that given space and opportunity I can foresee how the painted elements I include in my assemblage pieces, and as backcloths to my videos can also become part of the performance space. So that studio, installation and performance spaces become in this way pure extensions of my own particular universe of symbolic creation. Bring it on!


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Finally, finally I dismantled the two opposing walls of paintings in my studio space. Finally, finally I’m back at the art blog. Blimey, life has been busy over on, The Other Side, my blog about being a “neurodivergent” woman, which is only really the latest buzz word for saying I am not, neurologically speaking, typically wired. How a-typical my wiring may be is the subject of professional advice. More will follow when discover what kind of a-typical I am through a more formal diagnostic process. You can catch up with it all, including my latest excursion into activism (this time against bullying), here:

https://soniaboue.wordpress.com

Actually, I’ve missed this space terribly and yearn to catch up. For all the wonder of the WordPress experience, and my somewhat compelling neurological adventures, this is also home. So now I have two – like I always did, between Birmingham and Barcelona.

It’s been thrilling to share some of my creative adventures over on, The Other Side, too – I’ve found it hard to work out how to embed videos here for example, which got in the way of hanging out here when I was on my video roll. I’m sure I’ll get it soon and will be posting all manner of experiments, made less wobbly with the addition of an (ahem) telescopic selfie stick plus attachable tripod for my iPhone video captures. There’s a purchase I could never have anticipated, but I had reached the limit of what could be done with a coffee jar and some blu-tack!

But the real news is the taking down of what had become a working installation, so powerful and redolent of poetry and meaning that I struggled to shift it. My studio was for a time the embodiment of my cultural duality. One wall was was Spain and the other was England. Imaginary landscapes all, but geographically fixed nonetheless, each one of them. It was a supremely satisfying moment to find I had arranged them so unconsciously; justifying yet again my absolute faith in this subterranean function as faithful and true compass.

So now, I’ve been able to have the work photographed, by my favourite photographer for studio work, Paul Medley, and they are up on my website. Perhaps you can guess which paintings belongs where, geographically speaking? In some cases the language of the title gives the game away.

http://www.soniaboue.co.uk/gallery_681172.html

But the best thing of all is to paint again, and the two examples above have the paint still fresh on them. The upper one could change still – it feels unfinished and this is just a detail. The lower one (again a detail) has been wrestled to the ground. I think it’s done. I realise how much I love the process of painting, how free I feel to push the surface around in any direction, destroying the structures I’ve carefully laid down, when I need to, and sanding back to resurrect them if things just aren’t working for me. I’m not scared to risk everything and I’m excited by each stage of the process. Not to say that I don’t at times despair of “getting there” and resolving a piece. I hate to leave the work in crisis overnight, but sometimes you have to. I find in these cases the painting stays with me. I work it this way and that in my mind, yet it always surprises me when I encounter if afresh the next time I’m in my studio. Usually it’s not so terrible, but also the converse is true, and when you think you’ve made great progress returning to the studio can bring a speedy deflation of spirits and an, oh…okay…well let’s go!

I’ve missed painting, I’ve missed my art blog – it’s great to be back.

NB.You can also catch up with the fantastic project in supporting an Down Syndrome artist, Richard Hunt, in an exciting new residency on my other blog & there are many other new projects coming up.


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Late Summer is a wonderful thing. Always my favourite season, if gifted. It never fails to feel like nature’s extra bounty. Good fortune and extra vitamin D power the days. It won’t be long until we turn the clocks back and plunge into the relentlessly short dark days of Winter.

Refuge for Unravelling Time at the Abbey, Sutton Coutenay, will be coming home today. It’s a sad moment. I’ve loved every single minute of showing in this glorious place, but I’m relieved now that there’ll be no more sleeping rough for this feisty little assemblage.

With this in mind, I reflect on a report read yesterday on conditions in the camp at Calais. My mind reeled and shifted back to my research about the French internment camps of 1939. Insanitary, disease ridden and with insufficient food or water, many Spanish exiles perished on those sands. How appalling that history repeats itself, how little changes, how important it is, I feel, that we must hold our gaze and not look away.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/02/calais-refugee-camp-conditions-diabolical-report-jungle-bacteria-hygiene

I must now consider what to do with Refuge. How best to use her (suddenly she has gender!) to continue the work. My job is to honour the exiles past and keep vigil with the present.


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