Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan
Thursday 28 March 2013 – Sunday 30 June 2013
Souzou is a word which has no direct equivalent in English but a dual meaning in Japanese: written in one way – 創造 – it means creation and in another – 想像 – imagination. Both meanings allude to a force by which new ideas are born and take shape in the world. In the context of this exhibition, Souzou refers to the practice of 46 self-taught artists living and working within social welfare facilities across Japan.
The phrase ‘Outsider Art’ is an imperfect approximation of another term that does not translate comfortably into English. Coined by British academic Roger Cardinal in 1972, ‘Outsider Art’ follows French artist Jean Dubuffet’s theory of art brut, formulated in the mid-1940s, meaning a ‘raw art’, ‘uncooked’ or uncontaminated by culture. ‘Outsider Art’ has since become an internationally recognised term, commonly used to describe work made by artists who have received little or no tuition but produce work for the sake of creation alone, without an audience in mind, and who are perceived to inhabit the margins of mainstream society. The artists in this exhibition have been diagnosed with a variety of different cognitive, behavioural and developmental disorders or mental illnesses, and are residents or day attendees of specialist care institutions.
Outsider Art has followed different trajectories in Europe and Japan. In Europe, it developed in tandem with the discipline of psychiatry, with a handful of doctors collecting their patients’ works as diagnostic aids from the 1850s onwards. Most notably, in his 1922 study Artistry of the Mentally Ill, the German art historian turned psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn laid the foundations of a theory in which the works were judged as potent creative acts in and of themselves rather than being symptomatic of illness. Around the same time, those in avant-garde artistic circles, such as the Surrealists, began to take an active interest in what they saw as expressions of the subconscious by psychiatric patients, children and so-called ‘primitive’ non-Western cultures. These factors contributed to Dubuffet’s anti-establishment ideology of art brut and coincided with developments in psychiatry after World Wars I and II, including the rise of art therapy and occupational therapy, which were pioneered during the treatment of shell-shocked soldiers… (from the introduction, continue reading)
Death: A Self-portrait
15 November 2012 – 24 February 2013
Our major winter exhibition showcases some 300 works from a unique collection devoted to the iconography of death and our complex and contradictory attitudes towards it. Assembled by Richard Harris, a former antique print dealer based in Chicago, the collection is spectacularly diverse, including art works, historical artefacts, scientific specimens and ephemera from across the world. Rare prints by Rembrandt, Dürer and Goya will be displayed alongside anatomical drawings, war art and antique metamorphic postcards; human remains will be juxtaposed with Renaissance vanitas paintings and twentieth century installations celebrating Mexico’s Day of the Dead. From a group of ancient Incan skulls, to a spectacular chandelier made of 3000 plaster-cast bones by British artist Jodie Carey, this singular collection, by turns disturbing, macabre and moving, opens a window upon our enduring desire to make peace with death.
Brains: The mind as matter
29 March – 17 June 2012
“Our major new free exhibition seeks to explore what humans have done to brains in the name of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning and technological change.
Featuring over 150 artefacts including real brains, artworks, manuscripts, artefacts, videos and photography, ‘Brains’ follows the long quest to manipulate and decipher the most unique and mysterious of human organs, whose secrets continue to confound and inspire.
‘Brains’ asks not what brains do to us, but what we have done to brains, focusing on the bodily presence of the organ rather than investigating the neuroscience of the mind”
This is a plaster copy of a cast from the head of a 24-year-old woman named Victoire, described as an idiot and suffering from microcephaly, a rare genetic condition that restricts brain development. It came from the collection of the British Phrenological Society, which also included plaster casts of the heads of eminent persons and the skulls of other primates for comparison. Phrenology was controversial and dismissed by many as pseudo-science, but the British Phrenological Society survived until 1967.*
Distinguished British anatomist and surgeon Sir Charles Bell (1774–1842) published the first edition of ‘The Anatomy of the Brain’ in 1802. Bell undertook significant work on the localisation of brain function in the cerebrum (the largest portion of the brain, consisting of folded bulges called gyri) and the cerebellum. This plate shows the “general anatomy and subdivisions of the brain” and membranes, veins and arteries covering it. The pose of the head shows the usual method of positioning it for dissection at the time.*
Many of the patients in these photographs presented with much more advanced tumours than would normally go unchecked today. The 15-year-old subject of this photograph suffered years of headaches, nausea, convulsions, restricted development and impaired vision before being referred to the famous brain surgeon, Dr Harvey Cushing. She was in and out of hospital for the next 12 years, although the final letter in her file, from her father in 1931, strikes an optimistic note and thanks Cushing for his care.*
The brain is notoriously difficult to access and a set of careful procedures are required to remove its protective layers of skin and bone to facilitate removal after death. This delicate process marks the transitional moment between the brain as ‘self’ and the brain as an object of study, when it usually becomes physically disconnected from the spine and is completely exposed. This photograph was made for a textbook on post-mortems.*
Miracles & Charms
Two free exhibitions exploring faith, hope and chance
6 October 2011 – 26 February 2012
Wellcome Collection’s autumn exhibition programme explores the extraordinary in the everyday with two shows: Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings, the first major display of Mexican votive paintings outside Mexico; and Felicity Powell: Charmed Life, an exhibition of unseen London amulets from Henry Wellcome’s collection, selected and arranged by the artist Felicity Powell. Drawing lines between faith, mortality and healing, Miracles & Charms offers a poignant insight into the tribulations of daily life and human responses to chance and suffering… (continue reading)
A selection of images from the exhibition