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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August 10, 2017 § Leave a comment
Originally posted on my Through An Artist Eye project blog, on finding a 90 year old journal relating to the history of a British artists called Felicia Browne; whose art and life was commemorated in 2016 on the 80th anniversary of her death in combat in the Spanish Civil War.
This work relates to the core of my artistic practice and the paintings shown above are my responses to the story of her birth, her political awakening, and her fatal journey through France to Spain in 1936.
Source: A Journal of Events
July 29, 2017 § 7 Comments
(A photograph from my Orphaned Identities series.)
I was recently commissioned by the Arts Council, to undertake a case study of my practice as an autistic arts professional, in order to design a series of access measures – which may also be of benefit to others. I’m learning a great deal, some of which I share here in the hope that it will contribute to the conversation about access at work.
I research at the coalface of freelance work and in conversation with other autistic professionals. Patterns are emerging at this midway point in my funded work.
This study has thrown up something important. Namely that there can be a real difference in perceptions about what ‘turning up for work’ means when collaborating as a freelance.
In my own case I’m learning that my standards are high – perhaps usually so. Also that I need to be in direct control of my work flow, especially when a project is complex, and in circumstances where I have high responsibility for outcomes.
This doesn’t present a problem in projects with clearly defined roles with discrete responsibilities where a standard of expectation is reliably matched. Through An Artist’s Eye was a perfect example of when this works well.
Autism is a professional asset. If you work with us you’ll often find meticulously organised people getting results, and meeting deadlines absolutely on time.
This is because we can often see the job that has to be done with great clarity. Myself, I work methodically paying attention to the parts, with an aerial view of the whole constantly in mind. Holding this level of focus is joyful and important to me. An athlete fresh off the blocks I’m running in full flow.
This is my rhythm and my method. And it works. This is so because my work and my being are as one.
So my commitment is absolute whether the work is a hard won commission with public funds, or a personal project like Orphaned Identities. I’m on it 100%.
I’m beginning to understand that a well designed project (autistically speaking) has controllable elements and can be worked through directly and systematically using flow, and also hyper focus whenever needed. While a poorly designed one has too greater reliance on third parties who may be remote, unavailable or seemingly ‘unreliable’ from an autistic perspective.
Such obstacles can seriously disrupt autistic flow on creative projects. And this represents disablement in action. Disrupting autistic thinking in a workspace, with the need for constant negotiation of terms (for example) or through distance and serial delays, has the effect of derailing purpose, and furthermore overloading functional capacity – and there’s absolutely no need for this with some careful thought to design with respect for access.
Chasing the tail of a consistently unavailable colleague (for example) can be extraordinarily stressful, not to say aversive. Such practices are perhaps commonplace in freelancing – but can have an effect not unlike ‘trolling’ on an autistic person. The toxicity of poor design in the workplace for autistics can’t really be overstated.
Matching commitment can also be an issue, and there’s an element of luck, which has nothing to do with neurology. ‘Discipline’ can sometimes be lacking in freelance environments, which can present a minefield of wrong-footing.
Building strategies for survival is essential. And when I say survival I mean it in the truest of senses – not in the breezy way it’s used in magazine style journalism. A real dilemma that we face is that our non-autistic colleagues may not absorb the seriousness of socially disabling bias’ at work because we’re often so conscientious.
This raises the issue of training for our non-autistic colleagues. In conversation with my fellow professionals there emerges a powerful consensus among us that training must be autistic led if it is to be of actual benefit to autistic people – who after all should be the natural recipients of positive change.
As an individual in a freelance setting – my growing feeling is that designing my own access measures is essential to create the best fit for me, but that autistic led training for colleagues could be an excellent complimentary addition in future.
Currently this is all still very much a work in progress – but I’m immensely grateful to my autistic colleagues for their invaluable input into my thinking. Being able to situate our practices within community is a consummate survival strategy in itself. This is why the future direction of my research in this area will focus on networks.
The issues I raise are common to a growing network of autistic professionals – currently we suffer the demands to mask our ‘condition’ due to socially embedded expectations at work. This is seriously disabling and real access challenge in freelance situations.