top of page

Outside In: Infiltrating the Art World

A Series of Interviews with Marc Steene, Director of the Arts Charity Outside In and 2 Artists featured in their National Open Exhibition 'Humanity'


By Polly Bates

@pollysportfolio www.pollybates.co.uk







Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Installation view, Sothebys London, UK. Image: Tom Thistlethwaite. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


Outside In provides a platform for artists who encounter significant barriers to the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance, or isolation. Outside In was established in 2006 at Pallant House Gallery, and has since won the Charity Award for Arts and Heritage in 2013 and the Queens Award for Voluntary Services in 2022. Outside In became an independent charity in 2017 and gained National Portfolio Organisation status with the Arts Council England in 2018.


 

‘Humanity’ is the sixth National Open exhibition from Outside In, which opened at Sotheby’s in London in January before touring to Glasgow and Brighton later this year. The national call-out attracted a record number of entries by 500 artists and over half of the works on show are by artists who have never exhibited with Outside In before, many have not previously exhibited at all.

 

Outside In artists have interpreted humanity from a wide variety of perspectives, both personal and global, and the exhibition includes paintings and drawings, sculpture, ceramics, photography, film and performance pieces.

A virtual viewing of ‘Humanity’ is available at www.outsidein.org.uk from 27th April. The exhibition will then tour at Project Ability in Glasgow, Scotland from 12th – 16th September 2023 and to Brighton & Hove Museums from 24th November 2023 to 31st January 2024.



Marc Steene, Director of Outside In photographed at the 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Image courtesy of Sothebys. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


In conversation with Marc Steene:


PB: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to start the impressive, inclusive charity Outside In?


MC: Where to start? I would describe myself as an artist first and foremost, and my struggle with what that is, and means, has been a large part of my life. My life has had its challenges and art has always been a means for me to deal with and escape from a sometimes-difficult reality. Seeing other creators in situations worse than mine, having to deal with neglect and abuse led me to realise that the art world is far from representative or inclusive to all the people that make art in our society. This obvious and clear injustice led me to start Outside In and has informed my professional life working in museums and galleries to this day.


PB: You have dedicated your career to creating opportunities for artists who face societal challenges and barriers in the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance or isolation. What drives this passion?


MC: This partly follows on from my previous answer, but the point I would want to make is that we are missing so much incredible, beautiful, and powerful work in the way the art world operates currently. The need to find and include artists excluded from the art world is not only a moral necessity, but also a cultural one as well. We define our culture by what we exhibit, buy and collect and we are missing some of the most remarkable artists and art works because of the system we have inherited. It is important to challenge the status quo, otherwise nothing changes, nothing is set in stone and there is a need to rethink the methodology and language used to describe art and artists.


Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Installation view, Sothebys London, UK. Image courtesy of Sothebys. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


PB: What sort of support and opportunities do you provide to these communities?


MC: We provide three primary programmes of activity; Artist Development, Training, and Exhibitions. I think the most important is our Artist Development Programme, the aim of which is to find and support artists that meet our criteria to join the charity and thereby the wider art world. Many of the artists we find and support through our Artist Support Days have never shared their work before or had it photographed. I see Outside In as providing a series of validations for artists often with little confidence or opportunity. The first validation is being included on our website; it is powerful going from being invisible to being seen. Artists are then supported to talk about their work through our Share Art events, a chance to talk about their work to their peers, in a safe space. Many artists will never have spoken publicly about their work, sharing what they do and what motivates them, being heard and respected is another powerful validation. Finally having your work exhibited professionally in a respected venue, on show to the general public and if fortunate selling it, can be life changing.


We also train our artists to gain employment and experience in a range of arts sector skills, diversifying the arts workforce in the process. It is important to support artists with a lived experience, to share their knowledge and experiences so as to make the artworld a more relevant and inclusive place.


Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Installation view, Sothebys London, UK. Image courtesy of Sothebys. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


PB: Your recent exhibition at Sothebys in London, which is touring later in the year, was a breath-taking display of creativity and hope. What was the significance of infiltrating a world-renowned art establishment?


MC: Holding our National Open Exhibition at Sotheby’s provides a unique opportunity to place our artists at the heart of the commercial art establishment. Being at Sotheby’s means that their clients get to see our artists’ work and to both enjoy and reflect on the wonderful talent on show and the artists thoughts as to what motivated them to make their work. Through this exposure we are changing attitudes and many works are sold to collectors and others who will never had encountered our artists or their work. Many buying the work purely for its aesthetic value, and it is clear that we are providing an important role, not just in challenging the barriers our artists face but also enabling incredibly talented artists to have the acknowledgement they deserve.


PB: What change do you hope to see in the art world?


MC: I hope to see a future where art galleries and museums are truly reflective of the communities they serve. Including and programming art and artists who are not currently represented, this process will change and challenge perceptions of what we currently define as art and culture. This is vital if we are to see a future for the art world and a purpose for galleries and museums beyond their current limited relevance. If successful, we will grow to value creativity in whatever form it takes and whoever makes it, validating that being creative is a primary human quality to be looked after and protected.


Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Installation view, Sothebys London, UK. Image courtesy of Sothebys. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


PB: How do you relate to being an ‘outsider’?


MC: I remember reading Colin Wilson’s ‘The Outsider’ as a student and it had a profound impact on me. For the first time I realised that there was value in not conforming and that the position occupied by outsiders provides an important insight and vital contribution to wider society and the arts. Though it is often contested it remains a description of someone who is on the periphery and excluded from a section of society, it is increasingly used by our artists as a description of their relation to the art world.


PB: Congratulations on providing such an important platform for artists within your national charity. It is truly inspiring to see creatives reshape outdated, traditional constraints to a more inclusive, fairer art world.

What can we expect to see from Outside In during the coming years?


MC: Outside In will continue to develop its digital presence with plans to establish a more inclusive and interactive digital space, a virtual gallery of the future. We will continue to foster and create artist communities through the establishment of further regional hubs, building on our hubs in the South, the Midlands and the Nort West in partnership with major art galleries and roll out of our new programmes of ambassador-led hubs. We will continue to deliver ground-breaking exhibitions across the UK and expand our training so that more artists are able to have a meaningful role in the art world, generate income for themselves and enable their skills to help direct the future.




Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Installation view, Sothebys London, UK. Image: Tom Thistlethwaite. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


In conversation with Sew ‘N’ Sew:


PB: How has the support of Outside In impacted your practice and artistic career?


S’N’S: I have really enjoyed being part of the Outside In group. They have a great system in place to give artists a platform with their online gallery and a structured development programme that is very nurturing for participants. Also, I really enjoyed taking part in the exhibition, training, and seeing the work of others. It has been especially important to access events and films online, as I do not attend public events due to health concerns, and has motivated me to continue making my art and meeting interesting people.



Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Sew’N’Sew ‘The Crowd’ close-up, installation view, Sothebys London, UK. Image: Tom Thistlethwaite. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


PB: Can you tell us about one of the stories and people behind the sculptures within ‘The Crowd’, and what impact their experiences had on you?


S’N’S: When choosing people to represent in my sculptures I looked for two types; those who had been inspirational or activists in their community and others that had suffered great injustices. The latter affected me quite deeply and I wanted to give them a voice. They are a reminder that if we shut our eyes, we can regress as a society losing human rights to peace, education, food, liberty, health and reproductive rights.


“The Man of The Hole” was the last remaining member of a tribal group of Tanaru indigenous people living in Brazil; the rest of his group being killed by illegal ranchers and loggers over a 30year period, who were angry and in conflict about the amount of land the group had been given access to. This tribal community survived by hunting and gathering, using their ancestral knowledge of the forest. The man chose to keep his distance from other humans, so there is no knowledge of his language or culture. This story is synonymous with threats posed to all indigenous groups who find themselves in a battle for their resource rich lands. In 2022, he was found dead from natural causes by a ranger; he had performed his own funeral rights by decorating his body with feathers whilst waiting for his passing. The passing of this last tribal member represents the loss of culture, knowledge and a branch of humanity. A message to us all if we do not take environmental concerns and indigenous rights seriously, it is a loss to us all.



Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Sew’N’Sew ‘The Crowd’ installation view, Sothebys London, UK. Image: Tom Thistlethwaite. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


PB: As we experience crowds in society during times of celebration, grief and of protest, I found your piece to be incredibly powerful when speaking of “unsung heroes and heroines”. How important is it for you to recognise the immense sacrifice and tenacity of everyday people, compared to the glorified few?


S’N’S: It seems in recent years public conflict has emerged over past and present truths embodied in statues, causing us to question the perspective of our historical narrative. We seem to be in an intense period of iconoclasm, where politics and regime change leads to a questioning of the current and past truths. Previous eras saw intense periods of statuomania to present and justify ideals of nationhood and people, based on misogynistic, colonial, and capitalist pasts. The decolonising of museums, returning of artefacts, removal of statues or questioning of multinational greenwashing funding are part of the process we go through to rectify and grow as a society.

The rise in fake news as a strategy creates uncertainty and confusion when looking for new truths as a way of clinging to an outmoded societal mindset. The last few years have seen huge sacrifices paid by citizens of the world concerning aggressors, social injustices, environmental degradation, and social and economic collapse. These people are the majority, and a shift in memorialisation has started to acknowledge that, compared to traditional representations of statues and monuments.

As an artist I became interested in the idea of alternative sculpture that is not using expensive materials, playing with scale and techniques that were difficult to access. I use material of the feminine, recycling cloth from the home and second-hand finds. To make my stacked and thrown sculpture series, I took a wry look at the idea of me as the plinth and the fabric in a stationary or projectile mode as the statue. ‘The Crowd’ is inspired by the toppling of the Colston statue and pays tribute to under-represented communities and groups who may not have a voice or whose sacrifices are failed to be recognised.

A questioning of our past heroes and heroines helps us assess past successes and failures. By understanding our journey to today, we can then decide where we want or not want to be in the future.

As part of an online project, I was able to view my great uncle’s entry into Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps as a political prisoner. These were photographs of the original forms which were used to document every aspect of his physical form and detail, with his signature at the bottom to confirm. This example of a memorialisation of historical events through publication of people’s experience is of great importance when telling truths, especially a recent survey revealed 23% of young people did not believe the holocaust happened or is truthfully portrayed.





Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Installation view, Sothebys London, UK. Image: Tom Thistlethwaite. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


In conversation with Marzena Ablewska-Lech:


PB: Your work ‘Genesis (Mandala)’ responds to humanity’s ability to destroy, and this destruction has spilt across land and water. The figure within the painting is engulfed by aquatic endangered species; What inspired you to respond to the human impact on fish?


MA-L: The ocean and life within it is one of the strongest symbols known by humans. Primordial waters appear across many creation myths and for ages water was recognised as the source of life, as the symbol of fertility, of the beginning, of Genesis. The primeval ocean is also a symbol of the womb and chaos preceding the creation, it’s a female principle. For me, there is no more powerful symbol, embedded in our culture and beliefs, to show that we are at the edge of polluting the womb of the Earth. And this is how I see oceans and all life they embrace, as the womb of Earth.



Outside In, 6th National Open Exhibition ‘Humanity’, 9th-27th January 2023. Marzena Ablewska-Lech ‘Genesis (Mandala)’. Image courtesy of the artist. Exhibition available to view online from 27th April 2023 at: www.outsidein.org.uk


PB: The claustrophobic placement of the figure and foetal position suggests vulnerability and sadness, almost as if the damage is already done. Do you believe this to be true, and what can we do personally to help reverse the effects of environmental emergency?


MA-L: I rather see it as the beginning. The foetal position also references the womb, the claustrophobic feeling may make place for a feeling of being supported, for being embraced by the ocean's beings. If you look at images of divers surrounded by shoals of fish, you may feel that it’s an almost metaphysical experience to commune with nature that way, it all depends on what we want to see and how we want to act. The awareness of our negativity may bring negative feelings at first, but it may also be the trigger towards a will to change, the will to reverse the destruction. And to do it, we need to return to our origins, to a direct relationship with nature. I remember when the daughter of my friend asked us once if blackberries grow in a shop, she had never seen them growing in the forest before! Some of us living in light-polluted cities, haven’t seen starry nights for years, others haven’t heard singing birds. We have detached ourselves from nature and we should go back to the beginnings once again. Do I believe that we can be personally responsible for a positive change, that it’s not too late? Yes, I do, I need to believe. Even if it doesn’t depend on individuals but rather on big companies and governments I need to act as I can. We are a crowd, aren’t we?


PB: Mandalas are closely linked to spiritual traditions, what connection do you see to your painting?


MA-L: This painting is about our relationship with nature and communication with nature is for me a metaphysical experience. If there is a divine particle, I believe it’s right there, here. I am pantheist.











0 comments

Comments


bottom of page