OutsiderXchanges is visual art project based on collaboration, mutual exchange and open dialogue between artists with and without learning disabilities, and the wider contemporary art environment.
Led by Venture Arts, who have over 25 years’ experience of working with learning disabled artists, in partnership with Castlefield Gallery, Manchester and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The aim of the project is to break down barriers and challenge the concepts surrounding ‘outsider’ art. Parity of ideas and aesthetic approaches was the starting point. Collaboration, open dialogue and reciprocal learning were the key principles.
The project was launched last year with twelve emerging talents, six of whom were learning disabled artists. The artists involved in the project were given an open studio to create freely in over nine months; ten based in Manchester in a space provided by partner Castlefield Gallery, and two in Newcastle at BALTIC 39
“We collaborate to survive, everybody does. Collaboration is the value of the unknown and uncertainty. Collisions of different ways of making and thinking”.
Open dialogue was established from the start. Describing an early activity with Horace involving old records being broken and reconstructed, Rosanne said: “It felt good to get out of 2D and into space – interacting with objects and each other. A theme of ‘play’ was developing in the studio at this stage – and many others joined in with their own additions to the improvisation going on.”
This led to a series of visual conversations with artists working side by side on individual art work, interacting with found objects and open canvases to build ideas and shared experiences – the floors, tables and walls of the studio space were always an explosion of colour, cuttings, writings, found objects, broken objects, bought objects, sketches, fabrics and much more.
“… through conversation common ground was quickly established between Horace, Juliet and myself. It has been interesting to discuss our shared interest in schools, childhood and our relationship to architecture, but particularly exciting exploring our different approaches in how to communicate these ideas.”
Artist Sophie Lee said about their shared narrative and mutual fascination with identity. The three artists built on this whilst working together on I was the Assembly Hall an intriguing video installation and performance piece that re-constructs childhood memories.
When asked specifically about how it was to work with artists with learning disabilities Rosanne Robertson said: “The main difference has been the level of dedication and concentration demonstrated by the artists with learning disabilities… All of the artist’s with learning disabilities are less afraid of being themselves with their work – all of the artist’s work with more honesty than you will find in more mainstream art worlds. I would like to be part of an art world that has made room for this honesty and is more accessible and inclusive.”
Rosanne collaborated with Barry Anthony Finan on Yes Lad, Yes Lass, a poignant mixed media installation in which both artists lay bare their ambitions in video dialogues that “stands like two bodies of work facing each other in conversation.” (Rosanne Robertson)
All work was exhibited at The Manchester Contemporary (September ’16), BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (October ’16) and at a Thursday late event at Whitworth (November ’16). Here OutsiderXchanges hosted a one off ‘art party’ that brought forth the shared lived experiences of all the studio artists in a gallery setting and to great effect.
The art, which was exhibited, although being grounded in individual interests, experiences and practice shares themes of self-identity, memory and conversation, and in extension the relationship between the artist and their art. This blurred line between art and life encouraged the viewer to question their own conceptions of what art is, and what might be considered ‘outsider’ art.
From a learning disability perspective, dialogue and the associated concepts around language and communication can be varied and diverse. Showing the process was a key part of inviting the viewer to participate in the art; breaking down their own barriers and pre-conceptions, and helping to open up the conversation with artists with learning disabilities.
OutsiderXchanges in its first manifestation, has now come to an end but the conversations it inspired have just begun. Venture Arts has already acquired an additional studio where diverse artists can continue to work side by side. The intention is to continue these fascinating dialogues through initiating series of ongoing ‘Conversations’ –developing visual, spoken and conceptual language and building cumulative work that investigates relationships between people, language and art.
‘The Outsiderxchanges project was brilliant in that it was based on genuine equal exchange between diverse artists. Learning disabled artists still face significant barriers to entering the art world and through this way of working all artists benefited and saw their practice develop. It really feels like an exciting beginning, an interesting new way of working, in effect the start of an experiment that could have real potential in the future’.
Amanda Sutton, Director, Venture Arts
For more information about OutsiderXchanges visit the website
The project was funded through a Grants for the Arts grant from Arts Council England and Manchester City Council.
Artists involved in this ground-breaking collaboration were Rosanne Robertson; Barry Anthony Finan; Horace Lindezey; Sophie Lee; Matt Girling; Leslie Thompson; Juliet Davies; Sarah Lee; David James; award winning portrait artist Tanya Raabe Webber; Simon Raven and Jane Louise Graham.