I fear like there is a bit of a twisted Japanese theme going on in my life at the moment and I’m going to blame it all on The Grudge, since watching the movie again a week ago. The plot was weird but the scene with the ghost captured on security camera really freaked me out. Anyway, I brushed that aside, had a little check under the bed before sleeping – you just never know, do you? She has a grudge against everyone after all! –and the following night, here I was in a club with friends waiting for the grand return on stage of Agnetha from former group ABBA (not my idea I must say). It could have been a pleasant if rather forgettable night but it was not entirely as, straight from the start, I spotted (well, all of us did) a weird-looking Japanese bloke stepping on stage and dancing all night in the same way that a haunted toddler would move in your…well…average Japanese horror movie (Grudge again anyone…I was expecting him to wail like a cat any minute). The dancing was certainly entertaining…there were Kung-Fu movements, interesting dance moves reminiscent of Kate Bush in her debut video “Wuthering Heights”, but the thing is that they didn’t quite belong there really. Maybe it was a New Age craze or maybe the whole thing was ahead of its time…after all, who knew that we would all be embracing the PSYchotic moves of Gangnam Style just a year ago? I’m laughing now but I’ve been spotted doing them… and not just once.
So when I went to visit a new exhibition, a Japanese one coincidently, called Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan, it felt reassuringly fine…well at the beginning, until I came across Marie Suzuki’s disturbing drawings of pregnancy and childbirth with devilish foetuses. Little did I know – due to lack of initial research I’m afraid – that everything in there has been designed by residents of specialist care institutions, most of them diagnosed with a variety of learning or behavioural disorders. Frankly I didn’t see that coming as the exhibition was perfectly interesting overall except for the fact that I was not allowed to take photos (although I eventually managed to get the authorisation to take a few in a rush). It just shows that there is a fine line between madness and genius, as we say, and Van Gogh posthumously made a whole career out of it, as we know.
This exhibition has certainly caused a bit of a stir and has already been extensively reviewed leaving me with few original comments to add. While it’s true that some of the art is decidedly average – and boy, did I take a lot of pictures of that – there are definitely some very interesting moments which I couldn’t capture on camera but that could be easily found on the web. The exhibition has a very loose narrative and no or very few details are given about any of these amateur artists. All we know is that art workshops were established in Japanese mental institutions as early as the end of WWII in a bid to encourage social interaction and improve the individual’s chances of recovery and finding employment, and that in itself is a very positive message.