'Souzou: Outsider Art' exhibits the artwork of 46 self-taught artist living, and working within social welfare institutions across Japan. The word 'Souzou' (pronounced so-so) does not translate into English easily, it is a homonym -- a word that is pronounced the same with multiple definitions. When written in Kanji hieroglyphics it can mean 創造 creation and 想像 imagination or guess. It is a word full of curiosity and enigma, which suggest the dynamic manifestation of new ideas into the physical world. 'Outsider Art' has become internationally recognised when referring to work created for creations sake -- it has no audience in mind, and is usually created by people who to live on the fringes of society. An apt appropriation considering all the artists in this exhibition have been diagnosed with a variety of behavioural and development disorders, learning impediments including autism, and mental illnesses.
'Outsider Art' is associated with Japans 1945 public and education reform. Kazuo Itoga founded the revolutionary Omi Gakuen, a welfare institution providing a free-form syllabus of agriculture, education, medicine, psychology, art and literature to war orphans and children with disabilities. Omi was essentially adopting the model of work initiated by the French artist Jean Dubuffet, who described the concept as art brut "raw or rough art". Art that fell outside the boundaries of the art establishment, the confinements of culture, and often created by people living in asylums, children, and prison inmates. The term 'Outsider Art' was later coined in 1972 by British academic Roger Cardinal, as an English synonym to art brut which illustrated extreme mental states, unconventional ideas or elaborate fantasy worlds.
There are six sections to the exhibition: Language -- For most of the artist in the exhibition communication is a challenge, and is made more difficult by the intricacies of the written Japanese language, which has four different alphabets: Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana, and Romaji. Making (as below), Representation -- subjectivity of the artists feelings to things and people around them; this raises questions of perception and objectivity. Relationships (as below), Culture -- explores the artists awareness of their culture and surroundings. And, Possibility (as below).
Relationships and Culture
'Relationships' examine the artists view of themselves and their varied relationships with other people within the institution. It includes an array of work, of which I have selected Maso Obata's red crayon marital scene drawings on large pieces of cardboard (see sliding image above). In the video installations, he describes a preference to drawing on cardboard because it is a durable material. His room at the institution is a shrine to the distinctive red crayon marital images that hint at his lifelong ambition to be married. Elsewhere, Marie Suzuki's frightening but highly detailed portrayals of sex, procreation and gender explore the darker side of her psyche. Meanwhile, Takahiro Shimoda's pyjama suits vividly express his favourite foods. 'Culture' -- Keisuke Ishino has autism, and has spent years creating 3 dimensional paper dolls that remind her of family and the staff she comes into contact with in the institution. Her collection is vast, growing ever more inventive as she perfects and speeds through the making process (see above).
Shota Katsube's 300 strong mini army
The welfare institutions in Japan, such as the Shiga Prefecture employ residents in occupational therapy units. Employment is an integral aspect of Japanese culture, and at Shiga many of the residents use tactile craft materials to explore their creativity, and engage in a time-consuming and repetitive process that also has calming effects on the mind. Above and below portrays Shota Katsube's 300 strong mini army of men and creatures created from (metal and plastic) twist-ties, which are conventionally used to fasten plastic bags and keep wires together. The proud army is evocative of baddies and heros in anime movies and superhero-action films -- many don capes, unusual weapons, and wings to show off their rank.
'Possibility' explores the original concept of souzou as the collection demonstrates innovative forms of creation by the artists, who constantly face challenging circumstances. Despite having no contact with the outside, the artist collect, re-order, and create a montage of information to comprehend and control 'their' world. Some of the work depicts parallel or 'improved' realities that border on genius. But what and how does one define genius? For most of the artist, obsessing over the same subject has enabled them to perfect or innovate their craft. Meanwhile, Shinichi Sawada spikey ceramics are reminiscent of totems, fantastical sea-monsters and mythical creatures. The sculptures are created from the renowned rich, red clay found around central Japan's Shiga area, an ideal medium for Shinichi's work.
Koichiro Miya's crayon and pencil drawings 'Piano along with Keyboard' maps evolution and the future. Kochiro tracks varying levels of developed IQ by calculating a child's daily calorie intake; the method used is the same to calculate the fuel consumption of a car's energy output. A picture of a piano with 218 keys as opposed to the standard 88 demonstrates his results - a metaphor for the idea that difference leads to innovation.
Shingo Ikeda fills a notebook with endless calculations of the journey he might make on the subway, or to predict the statistics of the baseball game and sumo wrestling competitions he avidly follows.
Below, Toyo Hagino's geometric hand-sewn shapes feel cosmic, and Kenichi Yamazaki's blue prints use a compass, pen and graph paper, which expose a constellation of needlepoints when placed up to light. 'Outsider Art' considers these types of work as intuitive or visionary because they belie a religious or spiritual aspect.
'Souzou' is on at The Wellcome Gallery from 28 March until 30 June 2013, please don't forget to checkout 'Medicine Now' on the first floor.
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE.
By Lortoria McDonald