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11th January 2018

The day has finally dawned on the ¡Buenos Días Dictador! exhibition at the lovely Arts at the Old Fire Station Gallery. The opening is this evening 6-8pm.

The install began on Monday and took two days.  I can honestly say this has been the best install experience ever, due to the phenomenal team at the gallery. I could get used to being so well looked after!

Usually it’s just me and my toolkit – though I’ve had some great fun installing shows when friends have helped out too.

But there is something wonderful and indeed magical about having the work installed for you, I have to say. Rebecca Lee, the Technical Manager, has quite inspired me with her calm precision, and a quietly methodical approach – she’s quick too. I would literally bury my head in some detail (my exhibition notes for example) a few moments later (it seemed) she’d sail past me saying she was off to find a particular type of pin. I’d nod, busy my head again, and then pause, look up – and BOOM – whatever she was working on would be done, and looking bang on right.

More than once I stood back and revelled in a WOW! when did that happen, moment.

It was also total pleasure to work with Visual Programme Director, Sarah Mossop, again. Having curated my Through An Artist’s Eye project in 2016, she knows me and my work well. Sarah is also unerringly calm and reassuring and I felt (as ever) in very safe hands indeed.

Alex Coke, Marketing & Programme Manager, has made the usually worrisome  jobs of promoting the exhibition feel seamless. Her ability to translate my work for audiences, and the gentle encouragement to drop some of the art language I’ve acquired (as a jobbing and blogging artist) has been a revelation. Never has writing up the regulation exhibition ‘blurb’ been so easy. I’m not a fan of art speak really – but it can creep in.

A great part of the joy of this show also lies in the partnership of Arts at the Old Fire Station with the charity, Crisis. Thanks to the work of Participation Officer, Racheal Harrison, I’ve been lucky enough to be the artist whose show has come at the very beginnings of a gallery internship for one Crisis member. It’s been especially gratifying to talk things through with her, and to learn that my own work on exile is inspiring to her in a particular way. She has told me that my work instils calm, that she didn’t realise you could work on such a painful subject as exile and yet create something beautiful. This was a lovely moment – and it also got me thinking about my own practice.

The exhibition struck also struck a deep chord with her own experience of displacement and political oppression and we spoke for a long time about the situation in her own country. I’m now looking forward to inviting her into my studio space later this month, as part of her internship.

Being able to show your work is surely the tops for any artist. I’m extremely pleased to have works on show in such a fabulous gallery in this particular central location where Crisis members, among many other members of the public (I hope) will be able to see what I’ve been up to in my studio.

It’s felt quite odd at times to see these works take their first outing. They were made in the first quarter of 2017 (I think) but the year has been largely spent outside the studio on other projects and it’s all a bit of a blur. In the interim the number of works seemed to have grown! Did I really paint so many, I found myself wondering,  and yet they’re all so familiar – each one like a dear friend I hadn’t seen for a while. A gallery space can really transform a series and help you see what you’ve achieved. Having the space to view the works together without the clutter of the studio makes all the difference.

It’s perhaps my most intimate show to date. There are all kinds of personal items, relating to my family archive, on display on a low shelf. The viewer is invited right in at hand level. Only I’d rather people didn’t actually touch the objects and move them round (they are attached)!

The idea is to create context, to show visitors the object relatedness of the work, but the shelf is also a work in itself. Pulling it together in the space was probably the highlight of the install on a practice level.  Working with objects in an exhibition space is once step away from the performance side of my practice – where I make live assemblage pieces. But that’s another story.

In this exhibition I want to close a circle maybe, and bring about a further resolution of my family history.  But in truth I hope I’m opening up the space for more. My determination to create a body of works, which gives expression to the exile experience is something I’ve written about many times, and each time I show my work there is a sense of a story untold. The silencing by terror and political means spills out into the contemporary – a failure in Spain to acknowledge and work on recent history continues.

¡Buenos Días Dictador! could even be a contentious title for an exhibition in the Spanish context, and as ever, I ask myself whether my work could be shown in Spain.  The answer remains a question mark, or at best a maybe. And so I know my work is not yet done.