Another Music in a Different Kitchen
Outsider Art: it’s a term as contentious as that irksome moniker Punk. Whatever whatever, this is not the time for feeling self-righteous about being able to split hairs as to what is and what is not, so for now let’s just say it’s Another Music from a Different Kitchen.
The good thing about the combination of the words Outsider and Art is that it acts like a homing device, bringing together like-minded individuals and groups under the same roof come rain or shine and we were the ones who got lucky with a weekend of glorious sunshine as a bonus.
The European Outsider Art Association Conference may sound a tad pedestrian to some, but the theme is more than enough interesting. “The Voice of the Artist” is the sub heading and I am there in my capacity as an artist and so I get to sit amongst a congregation of other artists, curators and those who work inside the “outsider” sector. Conferences are not my usual habitat, seeing the Buzzcocks the night before, still delivering the product was a more familiar ground, certainly to stuff I grew up on but according to one person I met later in the day this was not like your usual conference. On the early morning train journey to Chichester I try to imagine and spot who any “Outsider “attendees might be, without success. I have a fair idea of what to expect. This is due to multiple points of reference relating to my own creativity, work in community and art as a pathway to wellbeing. I also have been involved with this year’s hosts and organisers ‘Outside In’ since 2011attending and running workshops on the likes of Dubuffet, Alfred Wallis and Nek Chand. I was also fortunate enough to be around and get to see the ‘Beyond Reason’ exhibition when it came to the Hayward Gallery London in 1996.
Thomas Roeske talking Outsider Art
The day begins with an introduction by Thomas Roeske, the current director of the Prinzhorn Collection and this plugs us all into the roots what we are calling Outsider Art. It’s an upbeat, informative and entertaining speech (no shouts of Boredom here) covering a lot of ground within the allotted time, this includes a brief history of origins of the Prinzhorn Collection, something about the Hayward show of course and importantly information on the artists themselves. Back in 1996 I don’t recall that there was that much of an emphasis on the people who made this obscure and outlandish art. Now, for myself and the rest of the congregation the names and works are almost as familiar as those of any art institution. No longer a just a wild bunch of institutionalised creatives who made wacky art, they are viewed as Artists with names and their own individual histories. People such as Jakob Mohr, Josef Forster and Adolf Wolfli captured in grainy black and white photographs for all the digital world to see. Moving through time, some words on Dubuffet, the term Art Brut and how and what he chose to display and then up through the 20th century to the present day. I was pleased to see amongst this chronology, some images by Horst Ademeit 1937-2010 whose work cuts through some of those tidy art definitions that end up as creative cul-de sacs. Ademeit was someone who studied under Joseph Beuys but was considered too conservative and academic and so, disillusioned, he left the world of art behind him earning a living through labouring on building sites. Horst would take Polaroid images of the world around him and over a 14 year he produced over 6000 images of building sites, electric meters, clocks and other such devices – not so much as an artistic endeavour but in order to record, contain and counter what he perceived to be harmful rays which were only detectable to him and so, in the surrounding border of each Polaroid he would also add his own words in order to preserve what it was he saw or felt.
Photos (© Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne):
Untitled, 10.05.1993, inscribed polaroid, 11 x 9 cm
Untitled, 26.07.1993, inscribed polaroid, 11 x 9 cm
Intro over, next a short talk by the current head of the European Outsider Art Association, Marc Steene who spoke of his own journey, how he came to an art that was not even considered as art and how consequently Outside In has evolved and developed. Then a break: followed by more talk (fine by me) – this time by groups supporting artist and the artists themselves. These were positive stories, about people doing amazing things during cost cutting times and it struck me that even though we have acquired a greater awareness of the capabilities, needs and values of hidden and marginalised artists over say the last 20 years within certain sectors, much more needs to be done in terms of sustained support and perhaps public awareness. I was particularly impressed that a group of artists had travelled from Finland to be there. As well as developing their own art one the aims of Sininen Sirkus or Blue Circus’ is to increase global autism awareness through their art. Then it was time for lunch and a bit of socialising in the sunshine. After that a breakout session with an option of one thing or another. I chose to go to a talk by the artist Helen Roeten who is a peer worker in a psychiatric hospital in the Netherlands. She had just flown back from South Korea where she was involved in the setting up of a Living Museum Project in Yongin Mental Hospital. Where artists and patients were getting together to paint the lengthy bleak corridors, soothing and perhaps erasing the traumatic memories of those who had passed this way.
In comparison to many other European countries, such traditionally marginal art in the UK remains in the margins, but then again, I do think that the British have a peculiar attitude towards the arts and notions of culture in general. I am not saying that those people who had come from France, Holland and Germany and throughout Europe don’t have challenges but from where I sat it often seemed that emerging and well-established organisations regarded the creative work of those who have been marginalised in our societies as having both personal and cultural value beyond what we have in the UK. There are many exciting creative projects happening all over the UK in Manchester, Bristol Leeds, Edinburgh, but I suspect that beyond London and the South East such creative work is either seen as occupational-craft or as an add on event rather than valuing such works as art in themselves. Tell me if I’m wrong. Thankfully this gathering felt like an opportunity for people to meet up exchange ideas, thoughts and working practices and maybe act as a catalyst for greater sustainable changes in the near future.