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.
August 16, 2017 § 5 Comments
(These images feature an improvised art ‘ofrenda’ to Heather Heyer victim of a white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville USA, August, 2017. The tribute was made for Heather but also bears the hallmarks of an ongoing practice.)
My last blog post featured a family photograph and was called What would Meri do?
I wrote about wanting to pay tribute to a recently murdered young US activist called Heather Heyer, and called on my ancestors to help me. This is a moment for witness.
My family were survivors of the fascist rebellion in Spain, which led to the Spanish Civil War and the slaughter and exile of thousands (1936-1939). This family history drives my art practice, but I began my work in 2013 when the contemporary political landscape was not as it is now.
Increasingly, since 2015, I have at times found cause to shift my gaze into the now, drawing unmistakable parallels with those past horrors.
My tribute to Heather therefore also draws on past works, as I build a language to deal with this need for witness and rituals of reparation, including one made in 2014 to Alec Wainman. His work countering fascism in Spain was not only exceptional but also intricately bound with my father’s story of rescue from a French internment camps in 1939. Here I use the labels attached to a garment as I did then.
For Heather’s tribute, I also introduce a tea cup from the tea set bought in Nazi Berlin (circa 1931) by British artist Felicia Browne, who lost her her life in the cause of antifascism in Spain in 1939. Felicia was the subject of my recent project called Through An Aritst’s Eye. I think of these two courageous women (who both gave their lives at the age of 32) holding hands across history. I seem to hover between them somehow, offering witness and metaphorically pouring tea
The soap featured is that of a German Jewish firm, Dr Bonner, with a history bound to Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt. At one point the soaps bore the motto “We are All-One or None!” on the label. I work intuitively and, in the process of making, the soap seemed to fly from my bureau to the suitcase (a ubiquitous trope in my work). No whitewash, it seemed to want to say.
The labels themselves bear Heather’s portrait painted over in white (they tried to silence her) but her features come through. Again, no whitewash. No white wash! Here I borrow from a work by Mexican artist Abraham Curzvillegas, entitled Blind Self Portrait as a Post-Thatcherite Deaf Lemon Head. In this work Abraham paints in white over hundreds of paper vestiges of a period of his life, signalling a form of erasure. Heather’s face cannot be erased if we hold firm our gaze and keep her close.
Labels I’ve made in the past have carried typed phrases. For this atrocity I have no words. Not yet. I am rendered mute by incomprehension, but my hands can work.
My plan is to keep making labels – to keep adding as I process and hold my witness. If you’d like to add a message for inclusion on a label please use the comment section.
Thank you for viewing, and for reading. Thank you for helping me bear witness.
UPDATE – the tribute grows.
Incorporating the first message and my Landscape of Resistance labels made on the inauguration of Trump.
August 14, 2017 § 2 Comments
This post relates to my research and the family history which fuels my art practice. My mission is to create a body of work around the themes emerging from a second generation experience of Spanish Republican exile to England.
My great grandmother sits beneath a bakelite radio, surrounded by family photographs in Madrid, 1935.
A portrait of a small child hangs to her right, it’s an image of my father which now rests in a plastic wallet in my mother’s house in Birmingham, England. This wallet contains all the photographs which graced the walls of my grandmother’s flat in Barcelona.
When my grandparents made their final journey from Spain to England in the mid 1970s the photographs travelled with them in a suitcase. That suitcase sits in my art studio in Oxford.
Packing and unpacking history is a cross-generational game. We shuffle the decks perhaps, but the intense joy of seeing and holding these images can’t be equalled. They centre me and show me the way forward. They tell me who I am.
This woman called Meri, who bore my dearest abuela (grandmother) sits waiting. Within months (a year at most) Spain would be at war, and after the siege of Madrid she would leave her home, travelling to Valencia and then Barcelona. In 1939, she would flee for her life and face the brutal camps of France where Spanish exiles from Fascist Spain were held behind barbed wire and under armed guard.
She was one of the fortunate exiles, allowed to leave the camps and live a civilian life in Angoulême along with my abuelos (her daughter and son-in-law). Work was tough. I recently learned that my abuelos worked 12 hour shifts in a munitions factory, but they were happy to be allowed to rent a small flat and make a home again.
By 1941 they were able to return to Spain, and grated permission to live in Barcelona. Despite being Republicans they were pardoned – they got lucky somehow.
As fascism rears violently in Charlottesville and I try to process this new horror, I look back at Meri. And I ask myself what would Meri do?
Meri was witness and survivor. Meri I feel, (like abuela also) would untie her apron and go to the market for flowers to make a tribute. We are called on to witness, again and again.
Since I began my art practice and tuned in to this history my work has expanded and diverted at times but I have always retuned to the ritual of the tribute. With the Nazi uprisings in the US my senses are sharpened once more, as with the refugee crisis, there are moments in contemporary life when my heritage kicks in and I can’t look away.
The news overwhelms and threatens to engulf us with all our senseless inhumanities. But now I know what to do. I must head to my studio to gather my ancestors and make some work. However small, however fleeting my witness may be I need to stay human. I need to engage and resist.
August 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
There are parallels for invisible disability, and this post helps me to clarify something I have been wrestling with. It strikes me that autistic people must bear all their psychological vulnerabilities to gain accommodations – we are forced to share intimate knowledge in order to get our access needs met.
Photo of my wheelchair in a dark room, silhouetted against a doorway, with a large shirt outlined in lights hanging against a dark wall.
“Forced Intimacy” is a term I have been using for years to refer to the common, daily experience of disabled people being expected to share personal parts of ourselves to survive in an ableist world. This often takes the form of being expected to share (very) personal information with able bodied people to get basic access, but it also includes forced physical intimacy, especially for those of us who need physical help that often requires touching of our bodies. Forced intimacy can also include the ways that disabled people have to build and sustain emotional intimacy and relationships with someone in order to get access—to get safe, appropriate and good access.
I have experienced forced intimacy my entire life as a disabled child, youth and adult…
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