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 the first.
The first workshop, titled ‘My Name Is…’, was focused on language and letters. The inspiration started with artist Mineo Ito, whose concentration on writing his name over and over results in unexpectedly exquisite landscapes. The obsessive, continually repeated letters lose their verbal intensity and become a visual treat, a new landscape.
The quick-fire ‘icebreaker’ built an instant artwork using post-it notes featuring the first letters of everyone’s name. The girls commented that the repetitive nature of writing a single letter numerous times was both strangely limited and took discipline to maintain. Ashliee commented that it was like saying or hearing any word over and over: it started to lose meaning and become strange and new-sounding.
One of the notable things about the artists’ work in ‘Souzou’ is the very accessible and ordinary materials used, and this is being reflected in the workshops. So, with coloured biros to hand, the next task was to fill a piece of squared paper with letters, symbols and made-up markings. No other directive was given, but it was fascinating what emerged. It was beautiful to see how each one was so individual. Kike commented that although she had not been instructed to make a narrative in the work, one had naturally crept in. She had names and other references hidden in her squares. Others referred to ‘labyrinths’ and puzzles, secret codes. We looked at the work of Shingo Ikeda and saw how his work is a unique, personal code recording journeys and predictions.
The final part of the exercise was to use some of the symbols and letters from the squares to create a secret alphabet. This took inspiration from the works of Takanori Herai (diaries) and the love letters of Toshiko Yamanishi. The girls each wrote a hidden sentence on their postcards within a grid structure embellished with their own designs.
The nature of the work at times was really focused and calm. At others, the discussion that arose was broad-ranging, open and hilarious. We noted that the Japanese language consists of four different alphabets, and some conversation revolved around language as a result. It was clear that the tasks were not threatening; the simplicity was almost contemplative. The mini-artworks produced were beautiful and totally in the spirit of Souzou – here’s to imagination and creativity, and I can’t wait for Workshop 2!
Find out more about Elaine’s work at www.elaineduigenan.com.