Object or Individual?

On Saturday 24 May 2014, Outside In Manager Jennifer Gilbert attended a talk at the Phoenix Centre in Brighton titled ‘Object or Individual?’ The event was organised to coincide with Delaine LeBas’ exhibition at the Phoenix, ‘Local Name Unknown … Gypsies.’ Other people present to take part in the afternoon were: John Maizels, Editor of Raw Vision magazine; Tony Gammidge, Artist and Art Therapist; Simon Costin, Director of Museum of British Folklore; and Dr Louise Purbrick, Principal Lecturer in History of Art and Design at University of Brighton. Here she gives her account of what happened.

Delaine LeBas kicked off the afternoon describing her experiences as a Roma artist in the contemporary art world and her life creating art, often alongside her husband. She then spoke of the exhibition at the Phoenix, which is described below:

‘Drawing upon her Romany heritage and family ties to the New Forest area, Delaine LeBasexplored the artefacts, imagery and hidden history surrounding the Gypsies. In the immersive environment constructed within the gallery space, the artist recreated her own version of ‘the compounds,’ which were makeshift structures employed by the British government to contain Gypsy families in the New Forest during the first half of the 20th century. Incorporating photography, film and archival material alongside textiles and costumes, hand-printed and embroidered by the artist, the exhibition featured an evolving installation embodying individual and collective experience, and shone a contemporary light upon the complex and disturbing story of the Gypsies throughout the UK and Europe.’

Delaine Lebas, image by Amelia Shepherd

Delaine Lebas, image by Amelia Shepherd

Next we saw some films from Delaine’s son Damian LeBas, who unfortunately could not attend the afternoon.

The final part of the afternoon, saw a half hour presentation from each of the invited guests on their particular specialism and the work that they do. Simon Costin spoke of the Museum of British Folklore, which is still in its planning stages, but has a lot of interest surrounding it and will be the first of its kind in the UK. It has been in the pipeline since 2009, with a caravan touring the UK showcasing British Folklore. The feedback was that it was great, and why wasn’t there a larger museum showcasing these works? When it finally comes to fruition, the plan is to set it up like the Museum of Witchcraft (Cornwall), where there is a lot to see and new things are spotted on each experience of it. Simon’s aim is to have people leave the museum having learnt something new and re-lived a piece of history.

Tony Gammidge talked about his role in helping to facilitate films and animations with those suffering from mental health issues and then showcased a few recent animations from artists. These were made by patients in secure units and psychiatric treatment centres, to be shown in public places, to break down the stigma around those facing mental health issues and to give them a voice. With the films and animations, Tony thinks about the different ways that people can tell their stories. In this role he works as a facilitator and not from an art therapy viewpoint; he is employed as an artist helping other artists. If possible, I will try to include a link to some of the animations here, but I am still waiting for permission on this. One film shown was called ‘A Storm Monster’ by Lauren Cotter Gill and a piece of her art work can be seen on this blog post. To see more of her work, click here.

John Maizels, Editor of Raw Vision Magazine, spoke of how Raw Vision started 25 years ago. He created it in his spare time as he was bowled over by this art form when he first came across it. Understanding that it was only known by limited people, he wanted to spread the word. As an art student in the 1960s he was always looking for things that were a little different, and after coming across Roger Cardinal’s 1972 on Outsider Art (the first on this subject in the UK), he became very inspired. John started by investigating Outsider environments, travelling across Europe to see them. Within his talk John focussed on several famous Outsiders including Raphael Lonne and Augustin Lesage, before looking at the sculptures produced by Nek Chand in Chandigarh. Nek Chand is still working to this day, but has many more helpers due to his health and fragility; he is 90 after all!

Photograph of part of Nek Chand's environment in Chandigargh

Photograph of part of Nek Chand’s environment in Chandigargh

Following all these presentations Dr Laura Purbrick, from the University of Brighton, chaired a panel discussion which was meant to focus on how we perceive and represent ourselves and others through labels and imagery, both in institutional settings and in our everyday lives. This was my main reason for attending this talk, and I was quite excited by the prospect of looking at the labelling of artists.

John started by saying that Outsider Art was not really an art movement, but more of a movement of individuals – that each individual is their own movement and that they are not really interested in each other’s art and what others are doing. He mentioned that he can only think of two artists in America that work together, but that their work is very different.

Delaine talked about working with her husband Damian, often due to space restrictions where they work and live, but that this meant they were spending 24/7 together each week. She also mentioned that her work is easily transportable in suitcases so that she can take it herself to venues that wish to exhibit it. Delaine often funds her own work, as this means she can make the work that she wishes to make.

This question was posed to the panel: When you bring the work of Outsiders in to the gallery or museum are you making it too sterile? John responded by saying that if Outsider Art is bought from someone’s house then often it destroys the house/collection/environment that the artist has started to create with it all. He does however praise places like the Collection de l’Art Brut for the way they present the work in dark settings with the work spot lit and carefully looked after.

Lauren Cotter Gill, Untitled

Lauren Cotter Gill, Untitled

Simon believes that the work changes once it is put in a gallery setting. However, he mentions that with the Witchcraft Museum, because of how the work is presented, it is still very much alive. Delaine said that when work is placed behind glass it removes people from it and stops them getting up close to it. She said that it wasn’t created behind glass, adding that it makes the work very sterile.

Tony Gammidge finished by saying that he feels that learning disabled filmmakers and artists are still very underrepresented in the art world, and that more needs to be done to include these people.

So as you can see from above and time running out, the point of the panel discussion was only really touched upon, and again I left wanting to hear more and for a greater discussion around labelling to have taken place.

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