October 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
This is quite a specialised blog post. I’ve been excited to find a slide show presentation from 2014 on a memory stick (autistically I burrow backwards and rely often on chance encounters with the past – the trick is to leave a trail…)
Like Hansel and Gretel before me I left some breadcrumbs, but still I’m rather awestruck that I could have missed working my way back to this somewhat seminal moment in the evolution of a project called The Museum for Object Research.
It’s a singular slide show. Many of the references will be obscure. It relates to my father’s two earliest plays – one unpublished and the other published in the Castilian language in small number and now out of print. Many of the references would be known only to the conference delegates of 2014 (familiar with the history of Spanish exile). Other references perhaps only I, or a handful of other people would understand. This doesn’t really matter. It’s the conceptual framework for my object work that matters – this is the exciting nature of my find!
October 2, 2017 § 7 Comments
I am not Catalan but I feel the recent events in Spain very deeply. I am an Anglo-British daughter of a Spanish Republican exile born in Madrid. My grandfather was from Galicia and my grandmother from Southern Spain, but they returned from their exile in France in 1941 to live in Barcelona. This place was my home from home as I grew up. Barcelona was my long Summers’ idyl, the city of all my high days and holidays, and my absolute love.
I have written often in my art blog about the long erasure of the Spanish exiles from the history books of Spain, and how my father and my grandparents never spoke of their internment in the French camps of Argelès sur Mer and Barcarès. I didn’t know or question why I lived in two places, or why my grandmother wept so bitterly in her kitchen each time we returned to England.
This is what violent political repression does – it silences you. Not just in the streets with batons. No. The erasure of memory and the taping of tongues creeps deeply into the everyday fabric of our lives. In many ways the invisible brutality of a dictatorship is at the heart of my recent cycle of paintings called simply, Buenos Días Dictador.
The dictator is everywhere and nowhere. The dictator follows you wherever you go.
The Catalan question itself is too complex for me to write about. I am an artist, not a historian or political analyst. But I know about living with exile. I know about suppression. And I know what’s more that these wounds run so deep in Spain that even 81 years on from the start of that Civil War it is hard to talk about Spain. Mine is a postmemory experience. My contact with the history is indirect, but my fear is present and real.
I have changed my social media settings to share this blog post.
The Catalan question can be hard to grasp, but you can recognise state suppression when you see it. All the hallmarks are there – and it’s impossible to argue with the statement by Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau. A line has been crossed and Rajoy is not fit to serve. Like so many bullies before him he is a coward, one who has set armed police against an unarmed citizenry.
There have been many opportunities to negotiate, which is what democracies are made for. Democracy is talking. Democracy can never be throwing citizens around like rag dolls, breaking their fingers, kicking and batting them with truncheons. Someone has died I believe, and more than 800 injured.
Most sickeningly there have been statements by Rajoy and his deputy claiming a proportionate response. But, no. This is not ‘normal’ or right.
With my art practice I witness. It’s all I can do.
September 26, 2017 § 8 Comments
I have been thinking about the constant demands to adapt to a neuro-normative culture and be the autistics others would like us to be.
There’s usually a snag.
Being autistic – being diagnosed late in life – is a process (of) unbecoming.
I can’t do what I can’t do, and I can’t be what I can’t be.
Not ‘neurotypical’ with quirks –
I really am autistic.
I’m just not the autistic you want me to be.
Ah yes, and so it is.
Autism is as real as concrete or snow (except it doesn’t melt).
But you need us to fit in to your ways.
Got it. Ah yes. I got it.
I caught it, and caught on.
I’m suppose to be this, that and the other. All things, in fact.
All things except the one thing I am.
This autism is not convenient.
Not at all.
With regrets and adieus.
This is the wrong autism!
Just the wrong kind.
September 13, 2017 § 1 Comment
Some days I hear blather.
It’s talking or something else.
You say it.
And we cut the grass.
The wind blows.
She is moaning.
I will meet you at the station.
Ah, but you won’t be there.
Because this is the longest day.
And I won’t swim in the sea,
or even touch it with my toes.
August 30, 2017 § 1 Comment
I have two countries – England and Spain.
I have one neurology – I am autistic. I am not a person with autism, or half/ almost neurotypical. I can do neurotypical communication ( to a point) but mainly I’m guessing; smiling and filling the gaps.
For the longest time it seems my being Spanish in England/ English in Spain provided cover for a deeper cause of my alienation. An alienation (which being an undiagnosed autistic) I hadn’t ever fully identified.
This brings to mind a set of Russian dolls, nesting as they do, concealing and revealing everything and nothing. They are empty after all – containing only one another. But let’s not even begin the Russian side of my family history. That’s the smallest doll in any case – the final solid figure you get to at the end of the game.
Conundrums are everyday stuff when you’re autistic, I reckon. At least they are for me. I suspect we do paradox especially well. Right now I write this post in Spain – after a long period of visiting other places for other reasons – and I am home in ways I cannot feel in England. Yet in truth England has been the more lived in of the two counties.
I, being autistic understand that I am socially different. I love my people intensely – those friends and family who make me feel safe. My relationship to place feels as though it may be unusually powerful.
As I returned to the streets of Donostia or San Sebastián as it’s known in Castilian (last visited as a child) I experienced a deep sense of homecoming.
Bizarrely, or maybe not so, it has been the street furniture that’s called to me like an old friend. Railings and lampposts regail me. Pavements wink and wave. I am transported to my past self. Reconnected to my true self? I don’t know.
I only know that I feel me in ways that cannot be pathologized. Open sport on who I am is simply closed. In the Basque Country I feel no judgement. This is because I am on holiday rather than trying to make a life for myself, I know. But it is also a break from online bickering which sadly characterises debates around autism these days.
I’ve been saddened to watch from Spain as fellow autistics have fallen out. There has also been ignorance on display by one ‘celebrity doctor’. Oh please! They are nobody, yet people seem to listen. Such is celebrity.
People seem to think autism is up for grabs, trivial, something open for comment.
So I’m happiest communing with the pavements of Donostia. They don’t judge. They never did. Acceptance is written into the street lamps – they mercifully remain the same.
Unchanging they embrace me. They carry me back, to simpler times.
August 20, 2017 § 3 Comments
I began a tribute to Heather Heyer called Rest in Outrage.
Shortly after the vile act of terrorism which took her life, we witnessed another – the atrocity of Las Ramblas in Barcelona. So I’ve felt compelled to cast my gaze back to my beloved childhood haunts, and stretch my tribute work across these two traumatic events.
I’m using labels for my tribute, which I’ve worked with in the past, especially during another tribute to Alec Wainman (2014). Looking back through some of my archive boxes I’ve found two further examples of label work, which now seem prescient. They could even have been made for Rest in Outrage.
I’m not clairvoyant of course, but my practice while seemingly fragmentary at times becomes coherent retrospectively.
The colourful Landscapes of Resistance labels were made in response to Trump’s inauguration (Jan 2017). In 2013, I made labels with fragments of printed family photographs featuring Barcelona among other places. It seems I was beginning my journey towards my current preoccupations back then.
I’m so glad I can use them to some purpose, that somehow this work hooks up and begins to make sense. My work may be as simple and inconsequential as finding missing sock and making a pair, but it’s all I can do.
August 18, 2017 § 2 Comments
(This image is of continuing work on a tribute to Heather Heyer, I must now find a way to extend my witness within my practice to grieve for Barcelona.)
There are no words for the atrocity which has taken place on the Ramblas in Barcelona. Yet I persist. I need to try.
I watched the horror unfold on my laptop. It had been a gruelling day. Unwelcome family news, a day spent in hostile sensory environments and the predictable near meltdown in a supermarket. It all paled as I took the news in.
Yesterday was also my wedding anniversary. As I held a glass of chilled Cordorniu and took my first sip I closed my eyes invoking a memory. It’s the same delicous cava my grandmother ritually served in celebration at our arrival from England to Barcelona between 1962 and 1975. Her dusty flat overlooked a series of now vanished warehouses to the old port area. You could see the statue of Columbus, from which the Ramblas begins (at the port end) from the shared roof terrace on which my grandmother hung her sheets to dry.
In my imagination the Ramblas begin almost at the foot of the marble stairway which opened out from my grandmother’s door and down five flights to the street. In reality it is several blocks away, but they seemed to melt as I drank on, recalling the particular intense dry heat of Barcelona, which in my memory always greeted us on arrival from England. As the taxi from the airport ejected a travel sick child onto the pavement, she would be moments away from grandmother’s joyful pinching of cheeks and the popping of a cork. Small sips of cava were encouraged and a cream confection was served back then. Our arrival was met by such ceremony (I later learned) because our separation from my grandparents had been forced. My father was living in England in exile and all our reunions were both joyful and filled with grief.
The bubbles on my tongue connected me to the Ramblas. They formed a memory hotline to that smaller me whose footsteps wore lovingly at the wavy paving which appeared on my screen as a crime scene shot. It was my stretch and I walked it so very often with my hands held by one parent now 90 and, one too long dead.
As a child I adored the decorative pavements of Barcelona – they were my friends and helped distract me from tired feet. Even as a child I understood the Catalans knew how to do street furniture, while in my other home (Birmingham), not so much. The Ramblas appeared to me as a paradise of exotic (and not so exotic) birds in cages, luscious flowers and foliage, magazine and book kiosks. It wasn’t a tourist trap back then. It wasn’t a death trap either. No one had invented cars and vans as lethal weapons for terror.
Barcelona had seen other atrocities, but I was blissfully unaware.
And now this. A senseless bloody carnage.
And the questions.
I don’t have any answers of course, I only know that when I grieve it’s for the old seemingly safe Ramblas – those seemingly more innocent times (and yet I know now that their backcloth was dictatorship). My nostalgia is thus tainted, and I fear we will hear more about how good things were back then. I hope not.
My work now entails researching aspects of the Spanish Civil War. As I viewed the colour photographs of chaos on the streets and armed police defending the public in 2017, my mind superimposed the black and white photographs of the street fighting in Barcelona, which marked the outbreak of civil war 1936.
Tricks of the mind.
And tricks of the mind is what we seem to face in all this horror. Somehow, somewhere human minds are being warped in dark and not so dark corners. We don’t yet know what this pattern means – the cycle of wanton carnage by the few and civic defiance by the many, as we witness again a show of citizenry on the streets chanting, we are not afraid. We only know that it’s becoming all too familiar, like a ghastly tape on a loop that won’t stop playing in increasingly rapid cycles.
I only know that a few days ago I began my tribute to Heather Heyer, invoking my Spanish ancestors to help me in my witness, and now I must cast my gaze to my old home town of Barcelona. Somehow these moments are joined despite their distant geographies.
My heart is breaking for Barcelona. For the Ramblas, and for all the victims of this latest act of terror. It seems the acts of witness are never done.