Judith Scott & the world of insider art
I’ve been thinking about Judith Scott’s fibre art sculptures since I saw some in a new exhibition space that’s opened in London, called ‘The Museum of Everything’. (The Museum space is an intriguing mixture of large and small semi-derelict rooms hidden behind the Chalk Farm library. You have to hope that the Camden’s health and safety officers aren’t going to visit any time soon.)
The Museum shows the work of artists who live outside the conventions of modern society as well as outside the art business, and you might think that the idea of a gallery dedicated to ‘outsider art’ is ironic: this category is defined by its segregation from the mainstream art world. Its works were never intended for public display, and its practitioners haven’t often thought what they made to be art at all. But James Brett, whose invention the Museum is, says he wants “to assert the sheer beauty of the best outsider art, to reclaim it as a distinct aesthetic category – one in which you have a whole world being conjured up by the artist.”
I found that the exhibition had a curiously liberating effect on my own imagination, and the film about the work of key artists – and especially of Judith Scott – was enthralling. I feel deeply moved by the metaphors her fibre art suggests; the wrapping and weaving, the twisting and tying of fabric around objects: tying and untying a life story of confinement and freedom, of concealment and revelation. It’s made me think a lot about the things we try to mask or display about our lives, and the things we reveal by attempting that.
In Judith Scott’s work the things she wrapped are mysteriously transformed and yet still somehow visible (or able to be imagined) beneath the fabrics and fibres – just as our hidden selves are sometimes made visible by our very attempts to conceal them. The sculptures are beautiful and compelling, and her work has taken up a permanent place in my mind. And somehow, it makes me feel very happy.