CategoryExhibition

Exhibitions: Art, History and More

The Compulsion to Create: ‘Outsider Art’ at MONA’s The Museum of Everything

Ted Snell, University of Western Australia

Who is an artist and when does a fabricated object become art? The 200 individuals represented in The Museum of Everything exhibition at MONA in Hobart focus our attention on these questions. On the website they are described as “untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of modern times”. They are hermits, governesses, housewives, former miners, taxidermists and ex-soldiers, working in painting, sculpture, and an extraordinary range of other media.

While these people may “unintentionally” be making something we might want to describe as art, they are the most focused, driven and compulsive group of makers we are ever likely to encounter, and there is nothing that is unintended in the things they fabricate. Indeed they make these images and objects because they must depict in some form what is most important to them in their lives.

After an exhilarating journey through 30 rooms and many corridors of remarkable images and objects, these questions about the nature of art and the credentials of artists reach a critical mass. Finally, you arrive in a backyard courtyard, entered through a fly-wire screen door. Painted on the wall is a call-out for more people who might be included in some future exhibition. It asks, are you a self-taught or secret artist? Is your home your own personal gallery? Have you invented a private language? If so contact The Museum of Everything.

This last advertisement alerts us to the real conundrum of encountering so many unique individuals and creative practices, who likely never expected us to engage with the things they have made. If they are secret artists, who have developed a private language and wish to keep their activities to themselves, what are we doing prying into their work and their lives?

Can we even call what they make “art”, in the way we conventionally define it, if there is no intention to communicate with an audience?

Untitled (all), Bogdan Zietek, 1970–2010, Courtesy of The Museum of Everything.
Moorilla Gallery, CC BY

Outsiders, or just artists?

Other writers have struggled to explain the remarkable work produced by men and women for whom the act of creation is fundamental to their existence. After the second world war, the French artist Jean Dubuffet coined the label art brut, or raw art, to describe the amazing work he collected from individuals incarcerated in institutions or those that made art privately to fulfil a deep need.

In the 1970s, Roger Cardinal, a British academic, opted for outsider art as a more useful catch-all for artists working on the margins of the art world. Others have grouped the work of this army of practitioners under classifications such as naïve art, visionary art and folk art.

Whatever box we put them in, and none is entirely satisfactory, the artists whose works adorn the walls of MONA are clearly extraordinary.

Courtesy of The Museum of Everything.
Moorilla Gallery, CC BY

These objects have been removed from the homes, hospitals, and workshops where they were made. We are forced to make decisions about how to approach and read them and how to react after engaging with them. We must learn to lift the filters we normally have in place in an art gallery and really look hard at works that break rules, disrupt expectations and offer us insights into the lives of remarkable human beings.

Creative lives

Each of these artists has remade their world through a physical engagement with the tools of art, and because of that, we have a window into some extraordinary personal narratives.

There is Henry Darger the hospital custodian from Chicago who returned home each evening to continue working on his manuscript, “The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”. He is represented in the exhibition by a series of consecutive panels of drawings illustrating his magnum opus, a sprawling and tender series of traced images woven together with pencil and watercolour.

Untitled (all), Alikhan Abdollahi, c. 2010, Paper mache.
Moorilla Gallery, CC BY

Adolf Wölfli was disturbed and violent, living most of his life in the Waldau Clinic, a psychiatric hospital in Bern. He drew compulsively and like Darger set out to create a massive literary work, in his case a rambling autobiography that saw his gradual elevation to the Sainthood as “St Adolf II”. His dense, complicated and intense drawings in pencil fill the page, leaving no space inactive.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to meet Stan Hopewell, who is represented in this exhibition by his masterwork “The Last Supper”. The task appeared so great, so necessary and so profound that to embark on it Stan required divine guidance. When his wife Joyce became ill, Stan made a pact with his God that he would continue to write and paint to celebrate God’s Love while Joyce remained alive.

Over the next five years, he filled his house with paintings, which he believed were made with the assistance of an “an unseen Angel” and wrote pages upon pages of a stream-of-consciousness manifesto about his life and his beliefs. The day Joyce died, Stan stopped writing and painting. His fantastical works incorporate the events of his life, his family, his abiding faith and current events. They were agglomerations that evolved, each addition adding to the complexity and the scale of the work, incorporating angels with flapping wings, illuminated with lights and adorned with his wife’s knickknacks.

Ambition and obsession

Darger, Wölfli, and Hopewell are only three of the human stories from the vast array that lie behind the over 2,000 objects hung throughout the temporary gallery space of MONA. Of course, they add a dimension to our reading of the work, but it is also true that the imagery is so powerful, so disruptive, so fresh and confronting that it commands our attention.

Untitled (all), Calvin and Ruby Black, 1955–1972, Courtesy of The Museum of Everything.
CC BY

What makes this work so arresting is the urgency of its making. These are images and objects that had to be made, that could no longer be repressed. Whether intended for others or created for solitary contemplation, they have an intensity that draws us deep into their fabricated worlds.

Obsessive detail is a common stylistic trait. Scale and ambition are others. Hans-Jörg Georgi’s amazing flight of aircraft, designed for escape from an uninhabitable planet, spiral through the gallery space in a torrent of energy. Their fuselages, carefully constructed from cardboard and tape, are maniacally compulsive, showing each detail of the engines and propellers, the wing mechanisms, passenger decks and windows. Both prophetic and wildly funny, this work, like so many others in the exhibition, requires a shift in consciousness to fully absorb its significance.

Untitled (all), Hans-Jörg Georgi, 2010–15, Courtesy of The Museum of Everything.
Moorilla Gallery, CC BY

What better place to confront these works than in MONA, a space that has rethought the modern museum and helped us to re-imagine the experience of engaging with artworks? The works are set within rooms designed to create the sense of a slightly dilapidated home-museum: wallpapered, sporadically architraved, cluttered with objects and glass display cases.

It is James Brett, the founder of The Museum of Everything and curator of this show, whose guiding intelligence is everywhere present. Each room is themed. Carefully positioned works draw you through into the next room of wonders where new relationships and variations on old themes play out.

Like every passionate collection, the compulsion to overwhelm is never resisted, but strangely this leads to an insatiable appetite for more. This is most definitely an exhibition that both requires and demands multiple visits.

Which brings us back to those big questions: is it art, and should we be viewing it? Perhaps the best way to describe the individuals whose works fill the Museum of Everything is that they separately and as a group pose questions about the nature of art and challenge us to ponder what it means to be an artist. Significantly, through this process, they highlight the sense of our own humanity and showcase the qualities we ascribe to humanness. What could be more rewarding, inspiring and affirming?


The ConversationThe Museum of Everything will showing at MONA until April 2 2018.

Ted Snell, Professor, Chief Cultural Officer, Cultural Precinct, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Event/Exhibition: Adobe ‘MAKE IT’ Conference 2017, Sydney

One of the biggest creativity events in Australia is coming to Sydney this August.

Adobe ‘MAKE IT’ Conference 2017 is a two-day event filled with inspiring talks from local and international speakers, labs, workshops, and seminars as well as sneak-peek from Adobe evangelists about updates in creative toolsets such as Creative Cloud.

Speakers include war photographer Nicole Tung, crafter Kitiya Palaskas, and designers Timothy Goodman, Mike Alderson and James Noble.

Tickets start from $99. For more information, visit Adobe website.

August 2-3 | International Convention Centre Sydney, 14 Darling Drive, Sydney

Music: David Duchovny Announces 2018 Australian Concert Tour

The X-Files star David Duchovny is coming to Australia… to sing. Yes, you read that right.

Duchovny has announced his 2018 Australian concert tour with a new album, which is set to be launched later this year.

The actor’s debut studio album Hell or Highwater was released two years ago, featuring alternative rock sounds inspired by Bob Dylan, R.E.M, Leonard Cohen, and the Flaming Lips.

Duchovny will be touring Australia throughout February and March 2018, with shows in Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, and Brisbane.

Pre-sale begins on Wednesday, May 31, while ticket sales to general public start on Friday, June 2. For more information, visit Select Touring website.

Music: Yours and Owls 2017 Lineup Announced

The lineup for Wollongong’s Yours and Owls Festival 2017 has been announced, with headliners such as Safia, Allday, The Preatures, Dune Rats and more.

See the full line-up here:

Pre-sale tickets will be available Friday, while public ticket sales begin on May 22.

This event is strictly over 18s. For more information, visit Yours and Owls Festival website.

September 30-October 1 | Stuart Park, Wollongong

Event/Exhibition: Bankstown Poetry Slam featuring Rupi Kaur

As a part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Bankstown Poetry Slam’s May edition is bringing the internationally acclaimed poet Rupi Kaur to the show.

The event, which also features Bankstown local Iman Etri, is also opening a callout for performances and youth open mics. Registration for attendance and performance closes on May 5.

For more information, head to the event’s Facebook page or email info@bankstownpoetryslam.com.

Wednesday, May 24, 6.45-9pm | Bankstown Arts Centre, 5 Olympic Parade, Bankstown

Event/Exhibition: TEDxSydney 2017

If TED Talks is part of your daily inspiration, you should not miss this event.

TEDxSydney 2017 promises a day of talks, music, films and debate, featuring speakers from a wide range of disciplines such as technology, science, design, education, business, art, health, law, politics, entertainment, and more. With the move to a new, bigger venue at the International Convention Centre Sydney, the event is expected to welcome a record number of attendees.

Attendees will receive special TEDxSydney tote bag as well as morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. Tickets start at $175. Attendees must be members of TEDxSydney community. For more information, visit TEDxSydney website.

Friday, June 16, 9am-6pm | International Convention Centre Sydney – ICC Sydney, 14 Darling Drive, Sydney

Event/Exhibition: Trust and Truth in the Digital Age

What is “fake news”, and how can one tell them from valid information on the Internet? That’s what this panel discussion event is trying to explore.

“Trust and truth in the digital age: The challenges facing news organisation” is a free public lecture presented by the ABC News, University of Technology Sydney and First Draft.

This discussion will be hosted by Walkley Award-winning journalist Paul Barclay, and feature a welcome address from UTS journalism practice professor, Peter Fray. The panel speakers include Malachy Browne, senior producer at the New York Times; Kim Bui, former deputy managing editor at reported.ly and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California; Andy Carvin, former editor in chief at reported.ly; and Claire Wardle, research director at First Draft and Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

Tickets are free. For more information and registration, visit the event’s Eventbrite page.

March 21, 6-7.30pm | Great Hall, University of Technology Sydney, 15 Broadway, Ultimo

Event/Exhibition: It’s Pronounced “GIF,” Not “GIF”

Do you think meme is a form of art? If the answer is yes, this might be the exhibition you’ve been looking for.

It’s Pronounced “GIF,” Not “GIF” is an art exhibition curated by Con Gerakaris, which seeks to explore Internet art and its commodification in a capitalist world. Drawing upon digital artworks commonly found in Instagram feeds and Tumblr dashboards, the exhibition promises a subversion of Western art canon through the lens of “perverted capitalism”.

Featured artists include:

  • A-nrd (London, UK)
  • Michelle Cho (Los Angeles, USA)
  • Simon Falk (Toronto, CAN)
  • John Karel (Philadelphia, USA)
  • Danielle Karlikoff (Sydney, AUS)
  • Nicholas Keays (Melbourne, AUS)
  • James Jirat Patradoon (Sydney, AUS)
  • Saulonzo (Anioch, USA)

For more information, visit the exhibition’s Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 1, 6pm | Goodspace Gallery, 115 Regent Street, Chippendale

Event/Exhibition: Data Girls Workshop

Take part in improving women’s representation in STEM by joining this workshop.

Data Girls, presented by Keboola’s DataDriven, is a workshop that offers an introduction to data analytics and business intelligence exclusive to women. The program aims to provide an overview of data analytics infrastructure and best practices through a hands on case study, where participants will get to build their own analytics solution on real data with real business problems.

The workshops will be held in Sydney and Melbourne. No prerequisite knowledge needed – just bring your own laptop and charger. Lunch and refreshments provided.

For more information and registrations, visit DataDriven’s website.

Tuesday, February 28, 9am-6pm | TAL offices, 363 George St, Sydney

Thursday, March 2, 9am-6pm | Melbourne

Event/Exhibition: How to Land a Job at a Startup: 2017 Edition by GA + Spaceship

Is moving to a startup company one of your new year resolutions? This event by General Assembly and Spaceship might just help you achieve the goal.

How to Land a Job at a Startup: 2017 Edition features a panel discussion which will give out insider tips on startup careers – what startups look for, where to find the best jobs, and how to stand out from the crowd.

The panel, which is presented by co-founder of online retailer THE ICONIC, Adam Jacobs, will discuss:

  • What startup employers value/seek in candidates (and how these values differ from those of corporate/non-startup workplaces)
  • How to build a resume around those values
  • Resume + application – don’ts to avoid
  • Free tools to use

The event is free of charge. For more information and registration, visit General Assembly website.

February 22, 6-8pm | 100 Harris Street, Sydney