The summer of 2021 saw LIFT’s mini-season of free art events reclaim and recharge London after months of lockdown. As part of our disruption to the city, artist Sonia Hughes travelled across four different corners of London, rocking up and claiming space as she built her shelter in a daring act of un-writing a letter written by her parents decades ago. Sonia’s guerrilla, public art piece subtly unfolded throughout the day, creating meaning through the action of building and the continual negotiation of placing herself in public space, stating thatshe had a right to be there. Sonia reflected on this complex work in a beautiful reflective essay.
I. The problem of reflections
Something like this. After the event at LIFT I went on holiday to the Highlands of Scotland. I was in the bathroom, there was a skylight and a glass shower and a tree appears on the tiled wall. A tree that I cannot see from where I was sitting. Real reflections are actually magic, a tree appears and I can’t see the source. The problem of writing this now is I can only see the skylight and the shower the tree has not yet appeared in my mind. If I say what is apparent now, I fix it then the tree can no longer arrive. It makes sense to me anyway.
II. The problem of permanence
I don’t like my writing hanging around. I have been reluctant to publish things, I have only one of the old scripts that I have written for theatre, they die when the computer they were written on dies. I am suspicious of anything permanent, perhaps.
But I like that I make words and images that fly up into the air and maybe sometimes people catch them and keep them and sometimes they land on the pavement and dissolve. That pleases me
III. The problem of photographs
I worked out Solomon was a good photographer when he did the photos for my and Ben’s wedding. His photos are gorgeous, but the problem is that if I look at them too often, then they can become all of the day. The feeling, the tiny incidentals, the moment I looked across the room and saw all of the people I loved dearly, chatting and laughing and being in love with each other under a canopy of ribbons which took me most of the previous day to assemble all get lost. The wedding was the planning, the commitment, me and Ben writing lists, deciding to be together, falling out and coming back together, considerations of our children, half-heartedly singing the Carpenters, I mean on and on and on…
A photograph can become all that a moment is.
Here is the photo of the family from Kent giving me gifts, they came to be in solidarity with me, which I felt odd about the time and cross about later and still now still problematic.
Here is the photo of the artist who I thought was with Tilla whom I had met the week before. But I only thought that because I assumed she was also Jewish.
Here is the photo of Cassandra who stayed all day and thanked me a lot at the end.
Here is the photo of me and some blurred birds, I don’t recall this moment, but I remember looking at birds a lot.
This is the photo of me and the aeroplane, and one of me and the cable car.
Here is me with the women with their babies in buggies, who live in the same area, but haven’t yet spoken.
This is Racheal, Leo and their friends arriving before the party begins.
This is the photo of me ignoring people who are ignoring me whilst they are having their photo taken.
This is the photo of me trying to make Bernard be Irish and oppressed, while he just wants to be a chief executive.
This is the photo of me and the young man giggling before he looks sad and tells me he’s lost all his family.
Here’s the photo of me below St Paul’s outstretched hand.
This is the moment Jane arrives.
Here is the photo of me standing on the base, the plinth, the stage, the soap box, the auction block.
This is when the rain came.
Alan, who doesn’t know where he’s from.
This is the photo of the empty space, which is no longer empty.
Still, I’ve chosen very specifically to have this project documented by Solomon. I’m hoping that Solomon finds his freedom in the process of me freeing myself. I can’t leave my kid behind, can I? More than anyone I want him to witness the letter being unwritten.
IV. The joy of the garden
It’s like this. I like my garden in its present state, I was looking out at it waiting for the kettle to boil. It’s kind of dilapidated, dead flowers need cutting back, annuals need pulling up and putting in the compost, bare bits of earth need protecting from cat shit. It’s unruly and unkempt and very beautiful. Leaves are yellow and black, the wallflowers have magically sprung back into action, tendrils from the rambling rose have spread all across the back, and the berries from the rowan tree have turned a pale, pale pink.
I had planned carefully what the garden would look like when the plants were all at their full height but had no imagination for what it would look like now, when things were over, dead or dormant.
Now it is mysterious, uncontained and its own self. Seeds have surreptitiously dropped in the ground, I can’t remember where I planted the previous years’ bulbs, in the next year of flowering things that were deep orange cultivars may revert to their natural purple. Even though I planted the garden I have no idea what will happen next Spring.
I like that.