Exhibition #4: Wrap your arms around me

I have always had a soft spot for the Museum of Everything – it was their self-prophetic name and bizarre doodles that first won me over, and the witty banter of their newsletter that has sustained the affair since. With last year’s always numbered, never titled, Exhibition #3 featuring a funhouse of circus-cum-taxidermy as curated by Sir Peter Blake, it was with great anticipation that I waited to see what Exhibition #4 would bring.

No cross-dressing acrobatics and water-heaving neighbours to be found this year however – not a bell or whistle or horn or cowbell in sight. Dare I say the Museum of Everything may have grown up and settled down?

Judith Scott, installation view at Exhibition #4, The Museum of Everything, 2011. Image courtesy of the Museum of Everything. Photograph by the author.

This year, the self-proclaimed space for ‘the untrained, unknown and unintentional creators of our modern world’ (the term ‘Outsider Art’ is the one thing that has not found a welcome home here) presented a quiet, emotive show featuring the extraordinary work of Judith Scott, impeccably installed and stunningly lit in the empty warehouse space above the luxurious Selfridges, graduating from an exploding cabinet of curiosities to a museum quality show worthy of the name.

Judith Scott, installation view at Exhibition #4, The Museum of Everything, 2011. Image courtesy of the Museum of Everything. Photograph by the author.

Scott’s obsessively constructed fibre and cloth works hang in the space like abandoned bodies. Exposed, their insides are turned out, with hundreds of metres of yarn and fabric wrapped, tied and consumed. Hours of labour and pain emanate from them.

While there is always a certain danger in relying too heavily on biography – a constraint many women artists have felt over the years – Scott’s work is enriched by contextualisation, or at least better understood. Scott was uneducated, misunderstood and segregated for most of her life, confined by institutionalisation until the age of thirty-five when her twin sister fought to release her. She was deaf, mute and born with Down’s syndrome. She began making sculpture in her 40s.

Judith Scott, installation view at Exhibition #4, The Museum of Everything, 2011. Image courtesy of the Museum of Everything. Photograph by the author.

One one hand, her works are highly vulnerable without a shell to keep them warm, but it feels as though that is the risk that must be taken so that the inside can be kept safe. Swaddled in layers of fabric, something has been protected here – what it is that is inside, we can only guess by the vague outline of its shape. Mummified and preserved, they have been removed from the world and encased for their own protection from a harsh and unforgiving reality.

Judith Scott, installation view at Exhibition #4, The Museum of Everything, 2011. Image courtesy of the Museum of Everything. Photograph by the author.

Perhaps the sculptures are an attempt at protection – offering inanimate objects something she never had. They may also be read as a reflection of the layers of separation imposed between herself and the world around – or the walls that were erected over the years. It is an extraordinary body of sensitive, poetic and emotive work, that leaves no question as to why the name Louise Bourgeois is often uttered in the same breath as Judith Scott… And to the reasons why the Museum of Everything may have considered growing up.

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