A while back I was introduced to the field of Outsider Art at college, a concept which fascinates me as it connects the notion of creativity and mental health with the idea that everyone has creativity within them.
The Wellcome Collection is currently running an exhibition of Japanese Outsider Art. Having lived in Japan for two years I have an interest in Japan. The exhibition consists of works of art (ceramics, textiles, paintings, sculptures, drawings) by forty-six artists who are residents and day attendees at social welfare institutions across Japan.
‘Souzou’, the title of the exhibition, has no direct translation in English but a double meaning in Japanese. It means both creation and imagination.
So-called Outsider Art in Japan has remained deeply embedded in the realm of social care in the country rather than being integrated into the formal art circuit as in Europe.
Outsider Art has followed a different path in Japan to in Europe. In Europe, it developed at the same time as psychiatry, with a handful of doctors keeping their patients’ works as diagnostic aids after the mid-nineteenth century. Around the same time, avant-garde artists took an interest in what they saw as expressions of the subconscious by psychiatric patients, children and ‘primitive’ non-Western cultures.
In Japan, Outsider Art was associated closely with public health and education reform after 1945 when the new post-war social welfare system was formed. Post-war educationalists championed the production of art within an institutional context.
The original emphasis of such institutions was on work, an essential component of Japanese life. The idea was that training people in workshops would improve their chances of finding employment and a place in society. In 1954, artist Kazuo Yagi took over the ceramics workshop at Omi Gakuen, which had previously produced crockery. He insisted on his students’ right to self-expression. This policy of ‘non-intervention’ in the creative process became a model for other social welfare institutions in the rest of Japan
Some of the pieces on show
Shingo Ikeda’s notebooks show his calculations of the journeys he would like to make on the Tokyo subway, or predictions of the outcomes of the baseball tournaments and sumo wrestling competitions he follows.
Norimitsu Kokubo’s imaginary cityscapes explore real places that he has never been to. They are created in his mind from snippets and facts he finds in newspapers and the Internet.
Satoshi Morita’s tapestries are made from other people’s discarded thread ends in the ceramics workshop he attends.
Takanori Herai’s diaries look at first to be made up of abstract shapes but are in fact hieroglyphs, which both record and disguise his daily activities.
The Wellcombe Collection, http://www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/exhibitions/japanese-outsider-art.aspx [last accessed 25 April 2013]