A Portrait of my Father the Playwright with Two Ripe Tomatoes – Sonia Boué explains her work for the Museum.
My proposal for the MfOR exhibition originates from my Barcelona in a Bag project, and has it’s roots deep in my postmemory practice. .
My grandmother’s handbag began to reveal it’s contents to me in May of 2013, and by Dec 2014 my artistic practice was entirely transformed by her.
In 2014 I began the MfOR blog and met my fellow MfOR companions in ‘object relations’. This undoubtedly spurred me on.
Digging deep into my family history involved various posthumous encounters with my father, firstly and most memorably online – in an archived obituary he had written for one of his close friends (a cultural figure of the Spanish Republic who was exiled in Paris).
This spine tingling moment inspired my circuitous approach to his creative project – a series of plays typed on a portable Olivetti Lettra 32. Secreted in his desk drawer they were a painful reminder of his ‘failure’ to make it as a writer, and a life long struggle with clinical depression.
But through my work these plays have emerged as examples of exile theatre (among other things) which are the subject of academic study. I’m currently collaborating with Dr Helena Buffery who is writing a book about dad’s plays, and what his work means in the Spanish exile context. I’ve become quite literally responsible for his legacy in terms of his archive (although Helena’s input is vital), but I also feel creatively responsible. It is my duty to honour him and the exile experience.
In 2014 I developed a performance called Visual Encounters with Tierra Cautiva, around the objects in one of my father’s plays and was visited by the deepest of understandings.
My father’s voice (silenced by the facist dictatorship of General Franco, and his own struggle with mental illness) was more vibrant in his plays than it had been in life (it certainly seemed so to me). The trauma of exile had overshadowed him from the age of 18. His Olivetti was his portal to creativity and a great solace, but it was also his downfall in that he regretted so very deeply his inability to find an audience for his work. I felt in reading his plays that I was meeting him again, but as I’d never known him. This was his zone, the space in which he was most alive.
I began to realise that my job in reconstructing and re-telling the hidden narrative of family history (tied up in a bigger picture) would need to take the form of a play. Only in meeting him on the stage could I bring back my father’s voice – this would be the place where we could meet and I could allow history to be kinder to him.
Beginning with my performance – and my growing sense of objects and assemblage as ‘props’ – I immersed myself in writing a somewhat surrealist play, Playa y Toro (Beach and Bull). Never having written such a thing in my life before, I was astonished that I could see it all so clearly in my mind as I wrote, and I understood something of his creative compulsion for the stage.
Possession may be too strong a word for this experience – an exercise in extreme empathy and summonsing of a presence is more like it.
I had also encountered my father briefly in various texts which relate to the history of the Spanish Republican exile, but nearly always as a somewhat tragic figure. “Famous for being sad!” is the phrase I get him to say in my play. This is laced with irony – for he was not famous (as he wanted to be), he always seemed to be the walk on part in someone else’s diary entry or letter. I wanted to put him centre stage (though he’s missing for half of the play!)
My work for MfOR will focus on the assemblage portrait of my father – which includes an Olivetti of the same model as the one he used. It will also centre on the play I wrote – a summonsing of a lost history and a voice.
This may be a sound piece or a performance, but painting and assemblage may well feature too.
In researching my proposal for MfOR, I rediscovered a slide show which I had prepared to accompany the 2014 performance (Visual Encounters with Tierra Cautiva). I was astonished to recall that this presentation – Adventures in Object Art – was what had inspired the original MfOR blog! It contains (in rudimentary form) a conceptual framework for my object work and will prove invaluable to my current research.