Outsider / Insider Art – A report from the Brighton Photo Biennial

Alex Casper is a Media Archaeologist and Researcher with the Cultures of the Digital Economy Institute (now StoryLab) at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. Alex was involved in the 2012 Brighton Photo Biennial and shares his experiences, thoughts and actions in his guest post.

The Conceptual and Research Architecture Bureau (or ‘CRAB’) is an ephemeral collective that specialises in reclaiming unused urban space to create sites for artistic experimentation. Founded in May of 2012, we opened our first show in the basement of a squatted department store, a building that was used as an impromptu conference center for the International Squatters’ Convergence. Following a successful opening that involved a ball-fight, a zombie outbreak, champagne and cider toasts, international appreciation and an unprecedented display of spontaneous creativity by more than two dozen ‘outsider’ artists, we felt it was necessary to continue producing shows. That being said, we continue to experiment with different formats and environments; we have had six shows spread over an equal number of months, and happy to report that none of them have gone to plan. Perhaps most critically from the perspective of Contemporary Art, all our shows have unintentionally constituted an example of what Nicholas Bourriard describes as ‘Relational Aesthetics’: like so many acclaimed contemporaries, our work is not just about the objects and images we place inside a space, but also about the complex relationships between people, places and artifacts that develop over the course of each project.

If it sounds pretentious, that’s because it is. A pretense is an attempt to recreate the world through speculation, experimentation. The traditional route into the art world is one of humility and privilege: art school, internships unmanageable without outside support, expensive materials and a sympathetic cultural environment. The world we work in is complex, even concave. Labelled and rejected by society, the squatter, unemployed or precariously housed individual is supposedly lazy or deceptive, undisciplined and yet exploitative of others. These are fabrications, but in the process of working together, we have discovered our respective and collective faults. Critically, they tend also to relate to our respective interpolations, our experiences within society: we are depressed and anxious, frustrated and vulnerable.

We were fortunate to be asked to participate in the Brighton Photo Biennial, particularly in supporting a project known as ‘Another Space: Political Squatting in Brighton 1994-Present’. We helped acquire materials for the publication, a catalog of contested spaces, while I also spoke on a panel during the experience. We also produced a completely unofficial display in a squatted bar, following a large, militant demonstration by the Squatters’ Network of Brighton. Perhaps the most important experience for me, however, was an opening reception held at the Brighton aquarium. In a way, it was disturbing, in that it constituted a terrifying and unfamiliar manifestation of art world finesse, an environment alien to our lo-fi salvage. Yet wandering away from the crowd, I found  the crabs I had come to see. On the same spot 130 years ago, Peter Kropotkin elaborated animal behaviour to suggest a new form of social organisation. Crabs have claws, they lose and recover shells and are amphibious. Yet they also have other characteristics… Art can be about expression, Art can be about rebellion. Yet perhaps most critically, art can also become a form of mutual aid.

Visit our resources section for more information about the Brighton Photo Biennial.

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