Outside In: Scotland is a two-part exhibition created on the initiative of the Outside In project, an alternative arts agency started in 2006 by Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. The project focuses on offering a platform for the representation of self-taught artists outside of the typical institutional context, whether due to disability, mental health issues or social circumstances; it provides them with an opportunity to both develop and display their works. Outside In has so far curated over twenty exhibitions around Britain and has won the Charity Award 2013, confirming its high-profile position amongst alternative art and culture organisations in the UK.
Although Outside In: Scotland is a modest exhibition in spatial terms (all the works are displayed in one large hall of Perth Museum and Gallery), the scope it encompasses as to the number and variety of featured artists is more than impressive. A selection chosen from 415 pieces submitted by outsider artists from Scotland offers a diverse range of approaches and mediums, giving a rarely heard voice to the thoughts of creative people who might otherwise be silent. In the words of artist Carlo Keshishian, a 2009 Outside In Award winner: “Outside In can function as a mouthpiece to project the voices of quieter people.”
What connects and underlines the particularities of all the exhibited works is the guilelessness and spontaneity of their intentions. This is artwork produced out of pure joy, or of the pure necessity to create. This is most perceptible in the short personal artists’ statements which accompany each piece and which are perhaps also the most touching element of the exhibition. They showcase unpretentious and heartfelt commentaries free from constrained artistic terminology; they reveal the exhibition’s message in its simplest form:
When you lose something you have to fight the sadder days, that sinking feeling in your stomach is just another wreck laying to rest. One day we will run into the woods again, under a sun, I have no doubt. (Steve Murison, Let summer howl through the guts of a dog)
Things Kenny likes:- Binoculars, Telescopes, Prisms, Periscopes, Kaleidoscopes, Magnifying glasses, Quality Streets and looking through the coloured cellophane wrappers, Making binoculars with coloured cellophane stuck to them, Dark red cellophane, His sister, Chocolate, Covering things in adhesive tape, lot of adhesive tape, BBC Radio 2, Bird watching, Hill Walking, Drawing, Painting and Making. (Kenny Carus, Portrait)
The exhibition is accompanied by a separate display: Angus McPhee: Weaver of Gras. This contains works by Scottish outsider artist Angus McPhee (1916 – 1997), who created most of his art in Craig Dunain Psychiatric Hospital near Inverness. Here we are surrounded by gigantic garments and other objects woven from grass; we feel a bizarre sensation that there is a master plan behind McPhee’s megalomaniac creation: a vision of beings greater than we are.
Outside In: Scotland is a fascinating exhibition not primarily because of creative technical or conceptual mastery, but because of the message it conveys – that artistic potential can be encouraged in anyone, no matter what their social status, mental health or problems. It is refreshing to be faced for once with an exhibition that is not trying to stun us with grandeur and cleverness, but instead aims for more simple goals: to make us feel that art can still be sincere and honest, and that it can also help the people who create. The exhibition reminds us of the essence of artwork and of the fragile beings that stand behind it. Outside In: Scotland is not a collection of masterpieces. But it makes you feel slightly more human.