My family’s evasion of a Nazi roundup of Spanish republican exiles at Anguoulême on August 20th, 1940, to the Mauthausen camp, is my focus as I build my Paper Trail response. It’s suddenly gone from a tiny sketch (inkjet print on tracing paper which I’ve clipped to the 1940 paper sample) to an ambitious project, which I’d like to realise in 2020 as an act of remembrance.
This new work is called ‘Convoy’, because the roundup has become known in Spain as El convoy de los 927 (927 being the number of Spanish exiles herded into cattle wagons that day). Almost overnight the tiny sketch evolved into a big idea with unexpected mathematical underpinnings. Through this exploration I’ve become enthralled by the idea that number (repeated) becomes pattern, and that this can in an immediate and powerfully visual way tell us something about the inability to ‘see’ dehumanisation in the face of number.
You wouldn’t know it at first but my tiny sketch contains a photograph (repeated many times) of three members of my family, my grandmother, grandfather and great-grandmother. It was taken in 1939, and sent to my father (most probably to reassure him in his exile in England that they – in their exile in France – were okay). By August 1940 they had somehow ‘faced down’ a second genocidal threat (the first being their evacuation from Barcelona in February 1939 as Franco siezed power). By 1941 they had made their way safely back to Spain. My father remained in England.
For Convoy I’ve imagined an alternate fate for my family (as with different ‘luck’ they could have been victims of the roundup) with a mirror version of their portrait tinted red. It just so happened that the two destinies – one black and white and the other red – create a square. I’ve multiplied and flipped it repeatedly, this together with the small size of my printed sketch (10 x 7 cms to match the Paper Trail sample) means you don’t see that the image is made up of faces. What you see is pattern.
As the work progressed I soon realised that a square image used in a square formation (with 6 faces in each square) could never represent the 927 Spanish exiles. In any event I now wanted to work with 930 to include the 3 who, as my son said, “got away.” I now know that through an act of mass resistance many, many Spaniards were also spared, but Convoy is a very personal response, and perhaps even the expiation of my family’s survivor guilt.
So I’ve still had to work out how to make my 6 faces become 930 as follows. I will need 155 squares (10 x 10 cms). The formation will be 5 rows of 31 squares, measuring 50 cms by 3.1 meters.
I’m certain there will be other versions and/or further sketches but I feel my concept is whole. I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced inspiration like this before (based on pattern and number). The Paper Trail project has inspired an entirely new way of working for me!