TagThe Conversation

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.

What Workspaces Are the Best for Freelance Workers?

Agustin Chevez, Swinburne University of Technology

People who work in the gig economy can work from everywhere. But not all places are compatible with the contingent nature of their work, recommended health and safety guidelines or fulfil their needs when it comes to the social nature of work.

Temporary self-employment is not new, but online platforms like Upwork and Freelancer are enabling an estimated 55 million freelancers in the United States (35% of their workforce) to connect with those that require their skills. A 2014 study estimates 3.7 million (30% of workers) contribute A$51 billion to the Australian economy each year.

The sheer amount of freelancers and their significant contribution to the economy, make it important to consider what makes a good place for gig workers to do their gigs. While workspaces used by freelancers might have similar components (for example chairs and desks) as those used by full-time employees, historical differences make freelancers’ workplaces different from the office.

It’s important to remember that the office is an invention. Contemporary corporate workplaces are the result of conditions that have not only given us the office building, but shaped civilisations.

For example in the US, the office evolved from a variety of circumstances including increased trade produced by the railroad. People could no longer do their business in their heads and businesses progressively needed more space for managers.

Further management inventions, such as hierarchy and bureaucracy, shaped organisational structures. Other developments like a reduction of the cost of steel and the invention of the elevator shaped the physical structure of tall buildings in prime locations in New York City and Chicago.

In Australia, one of the first multinational corporations, the East India Company, contributed to the development of the early office building. In the early 1800s, the first Postal Act of 1825 enablied the New South Wales governor to fix postage rates and appoint postmasters outside of Sydney. This led to some of the first offices of Australia Post.

The technological, economic and social circumstances fostering freelancing are in many ways different, if not at odds, with the context that created the office. However work is a social activity and professional isolation can negatively impact job performance and create adverse psychological conditions.

Another popular option for gig workers is the coffee shop. These have provided a social outlet and have hosted activities similar to today’s work activities –reading, writing and exchange of information – since the 17th century. However, these places are not sites for gainful or productive work.

If not a traditional office or coffee shop, then what?

Coworking spaces are shared workplaces utilised by professionals, mostly freelancers, who miss the interactions (and amenities) of the office but do not want to commit to long and complicated lease terms. These spaces allow freelancers to rent space in a casual fashion and in short terms, even by the hour.

Coworking also allow freelancers to work among others, even if not with them, in other words to “work alone together”. What started in 2005 in San Francisco by a software developer who wanted “the freedom and independence of working for myself along with the structure and community of working with others”, is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

Some spaces cater to specific professions, from fashion designers and writers to lawyers. Other spaces play host to every profession under the sun.

Some coworking offerings are based on the access economy, taking advantage of underutilised resources and making them accessible. For example, Spacious is looking into the more than 2,000 restaurants which are closed before 6pm in New York and aiming to open them for coworking during business hours.

Hoffice, an emerging model from Sweden, invites people to work from a more common “during-the-day underused resource: our homes”. In Australia, a bank is opening its lobby for clients to cowork.

Which codes or health and safety requirements apply when a restaurant, or home, is also being used as a workplace? As legislation evolves to protect the right of freelancers, design must strive to provide them with safe and good working environments.

Several studies from social and physical sciences on topics as varied as the influence of ceiling heights in creativity or the effects of smelling peppermint in typewriting speed and accuracy, suggest that qualities of the environment can affect work. Quantitative and qualitative studies also highlight the role of physical proximity between people in supporting interactions and transferring knowledge.

Even experiments with divers suggest that information is better recalled in the same environment that it was learnt (surface or under the sea). Working from a constant, purposely designed space to work with or among others might not only help to provide the necessary contextual cues to remind freelancers what they need to do, but the environment to do it better.

As the gig economy evolves, distinct places for gig workers are likely to change the skyline created by the railroad and busy managers. The advantages of freelancing such as casual and portable work should not come at the expense of a precarious work life without access to ergonomic, social and purposely designed spaces that take into consideration the uncertain nature of their work.


Kyla Lodewijk, Provisional Psychologist and Allied Health Consultant, also contributed to this article.

Agustin Chevez, Adjunct Research Fellow, Centre For Design Innovation, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Design: What Does ‘Design’ Really Mean?

by Mitchell Adams and Elizabeth Webster

In the race to stem the flow of complex product imports from low wage but increasingly skilled newly industrialised countries, Australia and other developed countries are nervously talking about the importance of research, development and design. This, they think, is where the high wage jobs will come from – and we in the ‘west’ have a unique handle on this. Thailand and China can assemble complex manufactured items, but ‘we’ have the monopoly on the inventive and creative parts.

Everyone is now hopping on the design bandwagon – design systems; design thinking; business model design; registered designs and design ideation. Even the economists are talking about design (in the context of a market).

But what is design really? In many respects, this is like asking fish where the water is. Every tangible product and intangible organisation has a design and always has had. But presumably, all those schools of design and designing businesses must believe they are adding value over and above what has been.

Design as applied art

Design is traditionally associated with applied art, or more precisely, aesthetically pleasing products. Applied art in this context includes recognisable areas such as fashion design, graphic design or product design.

 

Design as functionality

Traditionally the engineers also have used the term design. But this is to do with the functionality of the product, not its appearance. Hence, we have industrial design, engineering design and process design.

Increasingly, the term design now embraces appearance that is valued both for its own sake and because it enables desirable new forms of functionality. Apple is a champion of this. They require beauty in appearance but also demand that this appearance accommodates complex functionality. And they understand the power of a brand that can optimise these combined attributes. Consumers may not necessarily think about where the iPhone or MacBook is assembled, but they are being asked to turn their minds to where the product was designed. Hence Apple’s movement away from labelling their products as “Made in China” to “Designed in California”.

 

Design as process

Design has morphed again and now the term is used to describe a process that brings together seemingly unrelated groups of people to solve complex problems. The value here is employing design thinking to solve problems that ultimately enrich a user’s experience with a product or service. It is about creating an environment where stakeholders, not just the designers, can work collaboratively in the same space to solve the problem. Compared with the traditional ‘production line’ methods, these new design processes iterate between the upstream and downstream creators and end-users to produce an integrated and well thought through good and service.

The Centre for Design Innovation at Swinburne is a creature of this process. It takes a problem and creates outcomes that are end-user centric. Each problem requires a tailored working team with the right set of multidisciplinary skills. The aim is to enrich the end users’ life.

An example of a problem currently being tackled by the Centre is the reduction of head impacts during sports-related contact. The aim of the Centre’s Smart Cap and Gear project is to design an advanced wearable product that monitors in real time forces to the head and torso during sporting activities.

Likewise, at Swinburne’s Design Factory the group attest to the philosophy that design acts as a broker, bringing people together to solve complex problems. Along with their industry partner Visy, the Design Factory’s students and design coaches have recently redesigned the milk create. Helping to reduce the costs associated with storage, cleaning and theft, the solutions generated by the Design Factory are now with Visy’s supply chain stakeholders.

For many people design as process is nothing new. They have been doing this for…ever. This ‘movement’ is not aimed at them. The value in labelling an activity comes from highlighting what is implicit and enables those who do not work this way intuitively to change their behaviour. In this sense, bandwagon slogans and business review fashions do contribute to the economy. It’s just a pity they are using a confusing word.

The Conversation

Beth Webster, Director, Centre for Transformative Innovation, Swinburne University of Technology

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