June 15, 2017 § Leave a comment
¡Buenos Días Dictador!
Eight new postmemory paintings by Sonia Boué
Sonia Boué is an Anglo-Spanish multiform artist. Her practice is concerned with a legacy of exile, leading to a growing body of work which relates to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.
In 2015 she was recognised by researchers at Tate Britain as a singular voice responding to this history within a British context. Subsequently Sonia featured in a film made by Tate Britain entitled, Felicia Browne: Unofficial War Artist, and in 2016 she received an Arts Council grant for Through An Artist’s Eye, a collaborative project about the life and work of Felicia Browne (who was the only British female combatant and the first British volunteer to die in action in the Civil War).
“Since 2013, my work has centred on a buried family history relating to the Spanish Civil War.
My childhood and adolescence spanned the final decade and half of the Franco dictatorship, yet the Civil War was never mentioned. This history was silenced for almost 40 years, and subject to a “pact of forgetting” when democracy was negotiated in Spain, following Franco’s death in 1975.
Unbeknownst to me Spain had been navigating an open wound.
My father and my grandparents had been involuntarily separated in 1939, and my father remained exiled in England until his death in 1989.
My practice is now concerned with this inherited memory and the need to confront this history through my work.”
About Buenos Días Dictador
Sonia Boué has created a series of new works about growing up with the invisible shadow of dictatorship. In them she explores the the duality of her childhood, drawing on an immersive painting practice. Through it (and the other branches of her multiform work) Sonia seeks to recover aspects of historic memory (memoria histórica), previously erased by political suppression.
With Buenos Días Dictador, Boué’s previous focus on the narrative histories of the Retirada (Republican retreat from Spain), and British involvement in the Civil War, has shifted to her own memory sites – the return journeys to Spain from England in the 1960s and 1970s.
Her painted responses are conjured scenes (dreamscapes) in which collaged figures plot an upbringing spent shuttling between Birmingham and Barcelona to visit her grandparents. Through these works she examines the fabric of daily life anew.
“The dictator was everywhere, silently and invisibly setting the preconditions of our lives.”
The spirit of these works is nostalgic yet confrontational, employing a juxtaposition of painted and collaged elements as a means of articulating the unspoken. Buenos Días Dictador, forms a visual essay which tweaks at the invisibility cloak of Franco’s rule to ask a serious question; how can we live the life domestic in the face of violent rupture, exile and dictatorship?
In these enigmatic new works the dictator is everywhere and yet nowhere to be seen. Cut-out figures from the period (borrowed from sewing pattern illustrations) are transplanted to imprecise geographical locations. Buenos Días Dictador, is a series of haunting dreamscapes conjuring a surreal and dissonant atmosphere.
Please share with colleagues and organisations where the visual arts, and subjects of Spanish Civil War, postmemory, displacement, and exile are of interest.
Contact Sonia for artist talks, conference papers and performances.
These works are also available for exhibition (8/ 50 x60 cms mixed media on linen).
August 12, 2016 § 8 Comments
Photography Stu Allsop: At RE:collections at the North Wall Gallery, Oxford.
An interesting article appeared in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper, featuring my good friend and fellow autistic artist Jon Adams.
I like this particular quotation from the piece,
“Adams says it’s impossible for his autism not to affect his work. “It’s not separate so it must inform every bit of the work I do, even at an unconscious level. I make work touching sound, finding patterns and observations from my life all woven together as one.” He feels it may even give him an advantage: “It’s both my downfall and my creative edge,” he says.”
I’m chuckling though.
“…may even give him an advantage…”
Are you kidding?
While not wishing to indulge in trumpet blowing, I have to say that autism is of course advantageous in the making of art. No question.
Jon and I have talked about this on several occasions and conclude that art making has emerged in our lives as an inner compulsion – we live and breathe it – this is what drives us to create to our best abilities. Hyper-focus, perfectionism, task completion and originality (by default we see things differently), are my four (not so) secret weapons.
This doesn’t make me Rain Woman!
AND there is a downside. In the making autism is an advantage, but it is in the professional development and dissemination of our work that we often suffer.
Professional structures are socially driven and thus biased against autistics.
It’s a criminal mismatch when you think about it.
All that creative talent and very little scope for opportunity.
What a waste.
April 18, 2016 § Leave a comment
I have a new piece of work. I have a new metaphor. I have a new dance with stigma.
Thoughts swirl. Light on shadow, and shadow on light.
I have courage and I am scared. I have privilege and choice. New work takes time to absorb. I am almost six weeks into knowing that I am autistic – this too is a process of assimilation.
This short video – featuring a new work in my studio (for a group show) brought me to another level of realisation. The concept for this work – one of uncertain weather – is a metaphor for so many aspects of my life as an autistic woman.
I am impatient. I choke on the hard edges of stigma and the truth of it won’t go down.
The weather is uncertain, dictating all my experience of the sensory world. Uncertain weather is a daily encounter with both climate and social spaces.
My piece began as an exploration of exile but I find it works for autism too. You can read more about this connection in my work here.
January 4, 2016 § 3 Comments
Objects found today which speak…With all the forms I use as an artist I sometimes forget that the principle source of my inspiration is object work. No matter what I do it all springs from the objects around me and, of course, the ghosts of the past echoing through them.
Today was an important reminder. For the first time in a while I found myself with the opportunity to browse in a charity shop. I have a big submission to write and its skeleton (a sketchy draft) lies buried under a pile of papers – I know what I must write but I’m still feeling my way to nailing it down. Something stops me from committing to the format. My work doesn’t really fit into an online form but I’ll have to squeeze it into shape somehow.
The charity shop took me one step further. Towards the end of a reasonably pleasant rummage (no vintage suitcases alack!) I happened on a basket of scarves on the counter. I usually like to run my hands through them for silk. I rarely buy but sometimes the right one fishes up. Today it did – though at first I was ready to walk away despite it’s powerful call.
It said Abuela (grandma) – the woman responsible for my entire project and the deepest font of all my inspirations. I picked it up and admired it and immediately considered it for the performance I’m working on. Sometimes an object is the cornerstone of a piece providing a way in and anchoring it – making it tangible and real rather than a mere figment of my imagination. Only the other night I realised I would have to call on Abuela for my performance idea. Now here she was!
Yet I put it back. I turned away. A sensible voice told me that I collect too much stuff, that I’ll forget the scarf, that if I even get the gig I will have moved on by then and I won’t need this scarf despite the powerful jolt of recognition it’s bold colours and flowing florals bring.
But Abuela calls again. She’s in the room now, standing next to me urging me to turn back and so I do. I’ll take the scarf I say, and suddenly notice a small leather-bound dictionary nestling on the counter behind the basket. It hasn’t yet been placed out in the store. Spanish-English English -Spanish. My two tongues.
As the woman takes the scarf and wraps it in a paper bag I reach for the dictionary. Inside a dedication, with love and best wishes from Mummy Xmas 1954.
It couldn’t be more perfect an object – reeking of the times (my father’s fertile playwriting years), of family bonds, of bilingual bi-cultural lives, of journey back and forth. Reeking even of my mother’s own hand and her endless dedications to us over the years. It reeks of my father, his library, his life’s work. It reeks of grandma and grandpa and every single object in their flat in Barcelona, every detail of their clothing, their routines, their foibles. Their enveloping love.
From this tiny book you can learn that exile is destierro. There is no mention however of homesickness – añoranza.
Abuela’s scarf was right to pull me back. She knew I needed this book for my performance. She just knew.
November 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
Today I worked through some ideas for a forthcoming performance piece The Sadness of Being Nothing. As I worked I realised deep within me that video making is like blogging and raking my fingers through the sand. Video making has become thinking, and the more I learn (as I make) the more helpful the process becomes.
October 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
This is a photograph of me becoming character in my studio – in truth this character derives from a collage of impressions and memory and is an extension of the self. I explore the boundaries between acting and performance art.
In this blog post I write about art performance and the genesis of performance in my practice.
I begin with something of a paradox. I came to art performance through a posthumous conversation with my father the Spanish Republican exile dramatist José García Lora. It was his play Tierra Cautiva (The Captive Land in English) which provided an introduction to the idea of performative spaces as sites for the reenactment of traumatic experience, and led directly to performance becoming part of my work as an artist. Yet I’m forced to examine the view that,
“To be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre,”…”Theatre is fake… The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real.”
Marina Abramovich, (interview in The Observer newspaper).
This excerpt from one of her seminal performance pieces The Artist is Present (2010) demonstrates her point absolutely. Here Marina encounters her former life and performance partner Ulay. We know that elements of this are staged and yet it’s also wholly real in the sense she means. Hankie alert!
Abramovic polarises and simplifies to make a point and her proposition is literal and in this sense true. But there’s also a sense in which performance of any kind is both real and unreal. Theatre actors draw on real life experience and emotion in their work but theres also an emotional remove in embodying character rather than presenting self. Yet commitment to a more direct and authentic embodiment in art performance doesn’t always follow either, but this serves to draw attention to fiction and narrative in the theatre and by implication the linearity and language driven aspects of theatre which are also often in contrast to art performance.
But her words could have been made for the younger me, for whom theatre often presented an indecipherable and jarring code. I probably saw a lot of bad theatre (school productions of Shakespeare) and I’m not sure i would have got performance art either. Theatre began to make more sense to me when I encountered more naturalistic forms such as TV drama especially the work of Mike Lee.
But I’m conflicted. I can’t hate theatre, and I can’t agree that this fictional space is not also real and true in important ways in certain circumstances.
This is true I think for aspects of exile theatre where the performance space becomes an emotional stand in for a severed reality. For my father theatre became a lifeline, a site of emotional connection with country and self. It’s basis in authentic experience rendered the performance space live in my view, and provided a location to be alive in more so than in life itself. The vigour of my father as dramatist is striking to me in contrast to the blanket of silence that smothered the subject of exile in daily life. For my father the deep frustrations of exile often proved overwhelming and yet he found expression and meaning through this passionate attachment to theatre as form. His plays are a godsend in preserving his voice. The traumas of the civil war, his internment in France, and the ongoing dictatorship were suppressed (in common with many of the exiles) and not spoken of in his lifetime. I had not been aware that an entire generation of Spaniards fled for their lives in that moment of rupture in 1939, nor that they were erased from the national memory by the dictatorship. So it was a surprise to me that I was dealing with the exodus of half a million people, and my father’s palpable but unspoken grief had been lodged within me (as personal trauma) without my knowing of it’s historical magnitude.
This Unpacking Exile 2015, performance photograph comes courtesy of my curator for this piece Nimmi Naidoo.
My intimate connection with this material and it’s basis for my own work ensures that my performance is always rooted in narrative too. Much of my work is to allow the information I gather to seep in layer upon layer, and to channel the emotional landscape of my father’s sense of displacement, in as much detail as I can. This allows me to take in a wider view, so that my specific references begin to encompass a more general sensibility towards the Republican exodus and it’s people as a whole and then on into the contemporary. There are parallels with the current refugee crisis I simply can’t ignore and that also informs my performances.
My method is to collect sensory impressions through studying the history (stories mainly), collecting objects (material memory) through ritual (In the studio) and through the deeply sensory practice of painting. My studio is a particular site of connection, and in a tangible sense I use performance to transmit my studio findings. There are moments in which I loose track of time, track of myself in my studio and this is what I aim for. These moments represent detachment from the present and an immersion in a complex pool of collaged material made up of multiple data, which can best be termed impression and memory. It is true that in the moment of performance I seek to become wholly engaged. Not acting but being. It is in this sense that I find most truth in Abramovic’s words.
For this particular truth I turn to the incredible language of Amanda (Mel) Baggs, an autistic woman whose commitment to a conversation with everything in her environment has moved and inspired me deeply, causing me to reflect on my own attachment to the sensory world. Her video is called In My Language (2007).
I subsequently began an exploration of my own sensory world and it’s relation to my working methods in the studio. I’m starting to observe the extent to which my inability to follow sequential narrative (in cinema and theatre) as a child and younger adult has been rooted in alternate channels of of perceptual priority; visual and tactile. This has also helped to explain why access to verbal language is blocked in certain circumstances. It is difficult for me to access fluidity of speech when there is a lot of competing sensory data. So for example I find I am able to speak more fluently with my eyes closed squeezing sand through my hands quietly in my studio.
Now that I am more aware of the ways in which my brain filters and processes information I can begin to see how I have learnt to compensate for the lack of sequence and linearity in my cognitions, using other clues to decode cinema and theatre (as examples of the often linear narrative form). This is an area I hope to develop further and bring out in performance terms too.
I can’t talk about my work or my call to performance without mention of the deep significance of objects, which it seems to me act as fellow researchers and accomplices in my work. Quite simply, without the objects this project would not exist and there would be no performance. Objects are at the very core of what I do.
My interest in performance arrived somewhat unexpectedly, through my grandmother’s handbag, which I inherited in May of 2012. This proved to be the impetus I had been waiting for. My father, so passionate about theatre would have liked this method of transmission of testimony and found irony in it. His mother’s handbag lived on to speak the unspoken through it’s capacity to connect me to my grandmother and her flat in Barcelona and all the objects in it. This quite overwhelmed me, and brought me back to my beginnings and all my travels to Spain to visit her in my infancy, and led to the shocking and painful discovery of a secret history involving the war, her internment and her near miss with a round up to the Nazi work camp in Mauthausen. It has taken time to absorb these concealed truths and to be honest I’m still working on it. Yet I can never think about the origins of my project without conjuring Lady Bracknell’s incredulous cry, “A handbag!” from the Importance of Being Ernest, by Oscar Wild. Dad would have loved the conceit.
This video uses still photographs from a 2012, Filament 14 residency which saw the birth of the Barcelona in a Bag project in which I attempt to evoke time, person and place.
There is an obvious connection between the objects that form a crucial part both of my investigations and their transmission in my work, and the theatrical props my father wrote into his plays. This feels like a powerful connection between us, so that when I assemble the objects for my performances this acts as a tribute to him and an intention within the very fabric of performance to allow the narrative of a lost history to echo through.