OAF X Mad House Helsinki

Interview with artistic mentor Heidi Bäckström: “Art is [..] a burn to be creative, to express oneself through art and to share ones work with others.”

OAF and Mad House Helsinki are producing together the performing arts program. Mad House Helsinki’s press officer Laura Tolvanen interviewed Heidi Bäckström, our artistic mentor of the performing arts.

Laura: What themes do/did you feel are important for mentoring? 

Heidi: “The Outsider Art Festival has discipline specific mentors, who reinforce the work of curators with their own expertise. The curators are responsible for selecting the performances from the open call proposals. For me, as a mentoring member of the curating team, it was important that we strive to make the performing arts repertoire as diverse and multifaceted as possible. In this context, it meant the aim to select works representing different art fields such as live art, performance art and contemporary circus. Additionally, we made sure to include performers from different genders and backgrounds. Some of the artists are only at the beginning of their careers and others have many years of experience behind them. 

In addition, we considered what being an outsider could encompass and which works would fit the OAF repertoire for it. We wondered, for example, how the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the meaning of being an outsider; newly graduated trained artists are now easily left out of their own fields. As a curator, it is also important to address everyone’s personal tastes, as the curating team can’t make decisions based solely on what they like – on the other hand, the ability to express one’s own preferences is also important. 

Questions related to diversity are big and important issues worth considering. A variety of diverse proposals add to the diversity itself, so feel free to apply!”

What are the challenges (or strengths) of outsider art in the field of performing arts?

“Issues with funding and visibility are often threshold questions in the arts. How to secure a framework for artists to be able to create their art? And how can art be made visible in a way for spectators to find it? Continuity is of great importance: audiences should know that art is available, for example, in a familiar place or festival at certain times. The OAF contributes to this need on its part. Additionally, the term Outsider Art is perhaps a bit unfamiliar to many. What does it mean? Or in fact – what all can it mean!?”

How would you like to see the relationship between audiences and Outsider Art in the future?

“Outsider Art is art for the curious. Outsider Art is made from various starting points and in different ways, from visual to performing arts, from music to films. It is more of an approach than a genre, sometimes even a circumstance. Often, Outsider Art is associated with a desire to remain free and as part of a margin or underground. Thus, the relationship of audiences to Outsider Art should, in my view, remain as curious and avoiding of categorising as the art form itself. 

Different art institutions from museums to theatres should remember to include Outsider artists to perform at regular intervals, increasing familiarity between audiences and Outsider Art. At the same time, Outsider Art also needs its own framework, such as festivals, where it can be approached as a whole.”

What do you feel is the social significance of Outsider Art?

“If I now define Outsider Art in this context, primarily as art done by artists without a traditional art education, then its significance is essential. The art industry – and subsequently the spectators – has a unified way of looking at it and a historical perspective. There are many different tastes and styles depending on the artist, but they are still united by “the same background knowledge”. Outsider Art breaks this structure and reminds us that art is not an education, but a burn to be creative, to express oneself through art and to share ones work with others. A diploma doesn’t create interesting art, but the artist does. At the same time, I think it’s a reminder that spectators are allowed to approach art from their own basis and that there is no right or wrong way to experience art.”

 What would you like to say about Outsider Art to the public?

“Throw away all your art theory knowledge and imaginations of proper art and look at the work from its own basis!”