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This is a post which relates to the work I did in February 2014 on the 75th anniversary of La Retirada – the retreat from Spain at the fall of the Republic in 1939. It relates to Abuela’s (grandmother’s) improvised kitchen on the platform at Portbou Station, where in flight from the fascists she made rice to feed her family after an agonising three day journey without food. I work on the studio floor (as she did on the platform) and the tea lights I light in remembrance, once melted, become part of the recipe for sand flans. Cinnamon flan was Abuela’s signature desert during my childhood and here I make cinnamon sand flans, which also refer to the infamous French internment camps on the beaches, on which the fleeing exiles had to improvise shelter and food. As ever I use Robert Capa’s photographs, and written testimony taken from the exiles to allow me to imagine the conditions. Of course the exiles didn’t eat sand – but shockingly we know they drank sea water.

My technique is developing – the ingredients are basic, sand, cinnamon and wax. The single flan is the first in which I add the cinnamon and I’m happy to observe a crumbly texture, absent from the first six – made only with vanilla tea lights and sand. I have to work quickly before the wax cools.

The six sand flans shown together represent my family group, Abuelo (grandfather), Abuela, my mother and father, my sister and I. At family meals in Abuela’s flat the table was always set for six. I call this grouping of six wit the LED tea lights (more permanent and sculptural than the waxy melting ones) FAMILY.


Abuela is most insistent that we blog again today – no time like the present, she says, steering me towards the keyboard. No, I agree, no time at all, and it really does feel like no time since I began the tribute to Alec Wainman, which led to the film, whose stills I posted yesterday.

Abuela frowns slightly as if to say that I’m not quite getting to the point. And so I move my chair in a little and focus on what I need to say.

Today, four months after beginning my tribute, I received a small parcel in the post. One of several over the months from fellow artists and followers of the project. The idea was to ask for public responses in the form of labels, which would be pinned onto a suit, which would in itself represent Alec Wainman. The labels would contain messages to him or about him and together were to form a pin-board of appreciation with thoughts flowing back and forth across time.

Many times in my blog over on FaceBook I talked about ripples of kindness, not only did the decisions and actions of one man taken so long ago continue into the present, but further acts of kindness were generated by the project. It was as if Alec’s work was carried onwards and had the potential to reach into the future too. Talking about kindness seemed to engender it.

Abuela coughs.

Ah yes! Today this gorgeous tribute arrived from Kate Murdoch whose support to the project has been unfailing, and whose identification with Alec through his name has brought about a new sense of companionship for it and for me. Kate looks to the meaning of the name Alexander “Defender, protector of man” and creates a highly significant and personal link to her own father and his values – the other Alec in our shared encounters.

Through this process Kate arrives at a double tribute to the “two Alexanders, men of great integrity”, and the corollary to this is a delicate, yet profound reworking of the title. I can think of no better kindness nor friendship than her words of acknowledgement for the two Alexanders, “Without Whom We Would Not Exist”.

Verdad! Abuela, exclaims and pinches my cheeks as though I were five again and stepping off the aeroplane to meet her.


Over the Summer Barcelona in a Bag https://www.facebook.com/BarcelonaInABag?ref=hl
went into partnership with artist and film maker Jonathan Moss http://www.jonathan-moss.com to make a film called Without You I Would Not Exist.

The film centred on the story of my father’s rescue from an internment camp in France in 1939 after the fall of the Spanish Republic at the hands of the fascist dictator General Franco. His rescuer was Alec Wainman a pacifist Quaker who risked his life volunteering medical aid in Spain in 1936-7 and then went on to fight fascism with his pen and his camera as a journalist for the Republican government foreign press department. In 1939 he organised the safe passage of 15 or so Spaniards whose lives had been shattered by the war, bereft of everything, he also received them at his home The Old Prebendal House in Shipton-Under-Wychwood. His life saving support and friendship for the Spaniards was humanitarian and spiritual in origin, but he also pitched his considerable talents against the forces of fascism, placing himself in great danger. The film is in tribute to Alec, and showcases a tribute piece gathered from my own story telling and responses from an online community including other artists.

Our film is a poetic visual narrative, telling the story of the rescue but also delving deep into my practice as an object artist, whose work is based on immersive research and seeps into installation and performance.

The process of working with Jonathan was intense and exhilarating – 5 days to film in and a bad case of collapsed budget added to the pressure, and yet it forced us to work almost beyond ourselves and dip into that elusive something extra that athletes describe when facing a highly competitive challenge. Jonathan’s technical skill, his ability to work within the most extraordinary constraints, together with his poetic eye and unwavering good cheer have made him an excellent collaborator. Something about the material and the writing (my part of the bargain) provided inspiration enough for him to deal with my distinct lack of linear thinking and general fuzziness about continuity.

The herculean task of editing was Jonathan’s alone and for this he deserves enormous credit. I have been rewarded with Jonathan’s gorgeous take on my story. It’s been extremely good for me to give the process of presenting my work over to someone else, someone with such a perfect eye and gift for visual narrative.

Behind the scenes work is taking place on the trailer and we will be developing a programme of screenings in the very near future. The film does especially well shown on a loop as part of an installation, but will work well too in the context of artists talks and interdisciplinary forums.

From a narrative point of view it’s important as many people as possible can access this little known aspect of Anglo-Spanish history. Many of the exiles remained in England, including my father, José García Lora, who went on to write plays such Tierra Cautiva (The Captive Land) which are now considered important examples of exile theatre. I want the film to be seen so that the exiles are not forgotten. From a visual perspective the film is an art piece I am extremely proud of. My huge thanks to Jonathan for his unnerving support, his brilliant vision and all the back breaking work.


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.