Artist Elaine Duigenan is working with young women at New Horizons Youth Centre. She has devised and is running a series of six workshops that explore connections with works in the current Wellcome Collection exhibition, Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan. She’ll be writing a blog each week to relay some of the ideas and outcomes in words and pictures; here’s her final post.
The sixth week came round all too quickly and in some ways it felt like we had only just got started. The group members are often new each week, but there are some consistent attenders too. I had two activities planned, the main one being to work with some clay and second to pick up on the sellotape printing from a previous week. I have found it best not to overload the sessions with too much information but to choose an artist from the exhibition to look at in detail. There are a number of artists in the exhibition who work with clay, but the one I was drawn to is perhaps the least ‘sophisticated’. Komei Bekki makes tiny objects, I would say figures except it is not that straight forward. They are beyond representation and perhaps seek to improve, embellish, re-imagine the figure. The emphasis or addition of features make for magical re-configurations of the body or simply a body part. En masse they have extraordinary power, not unlike the army of twisty tie ‘warriors’ by Shota Katsube. The proliferation gives them strength as the artist has worked in, around, beyond – such intense focus creates a mesmerizing collection.
I showed the group a photo of a single tiny sculpture and then one of the mass of objects. We discussed how liberating it is not to have to aim for realism in our making but to use imagination and fantasy. To help with the making, I asked how we could improve on the design/form of our bodies – “do we need four pairs of hands? Eyes in the backs of our heads?”
I encouraged everyone to get stuck in with some red clay in hand. The only restriction I placed on it was scale, that each object could not exceed the amount of clay given. This is something I have discovered through running the workshops; by limiting the scale it has proved less threatening to participants and allowed those in the group who feel that “I am not an artist” and “I can’t do art” to simply have a go. Tactile materials become a pleasure to work with; A talked about how she liked “playing with blu-tac – I cant help myself, I’ve just got to fiddle with it”. There is a compulsion to pull and stretch it and even craft something out of it. Without exception small objects emerged from everyone’s red clay. H produces a medley of individual body parts that she then places in a small “sad” pile. M makes an eye in relief and V comments that it is reminiscent of the small votives in the Wellcome Collection. Interestingly some of the girls who struggled initially came up with some really evocative objects. H just bashed away at the clay, making marks and venting something..
So, two things from today – the nostalgic enjoyment of a tactile material and the non-threatening nature of working at small scale. It feels like the last six weeks have been enormously fruitful, not least for myself as an artist. I cannot over estimate the inspiration drawn from the Souzou exhibition. The work there is liberated from constraint and encourages us to embrace a child-like delight – one that revels in mark making, the feel of a material, drawing on fantasy and imagination. I have loved seeing the group participants become calm and focused, relaxed and chatting with hands and brains busy.
What a wonderful thing art is!