For a long time I've been used to a rather hermitic, if not hermetic, life and the presence of another person or persons for longer than a day, whether family or friends, regardless of my feelings for them, is something I have great difficulty in adjusting to. Being on my own has never been a problem. On the contrary, I need a kind of open solitude in order to function as myself. I've had lonely times of course - who hasn't? - but solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is an ingredient as essential to me as air or food.
So this has been a difficult birthday week and in order to restore my own rhythm I went to see the Alternative Guide to the Universe exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Big, bustling, pushy crowds are not my thing but those which amble along in leisurely fashion on a sunny day in pleasant surroundings are fun to observe and mingle with and conversations can be eavesdropped without having to join in - a pleasant way to be part of society without needing to be sociable. A bit like logging in to Facebook but not participating.
The South Bank is in the midst of a Festival of Neighbourhood and all sorts of things have cropped up which weren't there before. Those yellow banners for instance and the fierce animals and humanoid insect-creatures drawn on walls. I don't know who did them or whether they will stay permanently and I'm not not sure what, if anything, they have to do with neighbourliness but they are startling and intriguing.
Inside the Hayward I began by going up to the level where the Museum of Everything is exhibiting a few works by the wonderful Nek Chand who, like Facteur Cheval, Simon Rodia and other so-called 'naive' artist-builders elsewhere, created an extraordinary magical world from recycled materials. You can see some of Chand's Rock Garden on this video and there's an interview with him here with subtitles in English.
I've always been fascinated and inspired by such mavericks: artists outside art movements, DIY scientists with no academic degrees, inventors/engineers/architects without qualifications, thinkers outside the outside of any box, philosophers mocked by their peers for their far-out theories, visionaries, odd-balls - I love them all. And the Alternative Guide to the Universe exhibition is dedicated to them. I only managed to sneak a few photos but have ordered the book and there are good images and plenty of information on the internet about all the people featured in the show. If you're as intrigued as I am by Otherness, please be sure to follow the links:
BODYS ISEK KINGELEZ (some of his models are on the upper right in the photo below); GEORGE WIDENER (below left).
EMERY BLAGDON (one of his 'healing machines' is shown below).
Below: two works by PAUL LAFFOLEY
And there's MARCEL STORR and JAMES CARTER and many more but that's enough to distract you from whatever else you happen to be doing right now.
What interests me about these and similar outsiders is that whether they are as sane as you and I (hahahaha), a bit bonkers, completely bonkers, hypersensitive, autistic, visionary or any other classification you prefer, they all speak the same 'language' and explore the same kind of themes: cosmological, mathematical, patterned, symbolic, universal, sometimes mystical, none of it within accepted traditions and yet seeming to belong to a common lineage. It's as if a part of their mind is tuned to a wavelength beyond the reach of most minds, even very sophisticated, erudite minds. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of these mavericks are self-taught, if taught at all. Maybe their lack of sophistication is one of the factors which allows them to be antennae for whatever arcane messages the universe sends out. Of course any content they pick up and transform into paintings, constructions or words will be interpreted by their individual personalities and culture and thus may look weird, incomprehensible or merely charming to spectators. But I wouldn't dismiss it too easily.
And then I went home on the tube and saw this: