A creative response to the life and work of
For the past few months I have been working with a wonderful group of older gentlemen and culture vultures, members of Manchester’s ‘Out in the City’ group. The project took place between Whitworth Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum and it’s Herbarium. We have been inspired by the collections and by the life and work of outsider artist, Angus MacPhee.
Angus McPhee (1916-1997) grew up in a remote crofting community on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. In his twenties, during World War II, he became acutely mentally ill and was eventually committed to psychiatric hospital where he spent the next fifty years.
During his time there he chose not to speak but spent his time outdoors creating woven grass work. He worked compulsively and with no apparent need to show his finished objects to anyone, instead hanging them from trees in the hospital grounds. The process of making was the most important thing to Angus. The objects were often extraordinary clothing, intricate and sturdy, twisted and looped like grass chainmaille.
Hospital staff didn’t recognise Angus’s unique creative skills or the power of his objects and their interest to the outside world, and they were often burnt along with the garden waste. However, in the 1970s, he came to the attention of art therapist and curator Joyce Laing. She saw how special Angus’s work was and exhibited it in Scottish galleries and internationally.
With changes in policy and attitudes towards inpatient care, Angus returned to live near his sister on South Uist in 1996 where, despite being almost blind, he continued to weave grass until his death a year later.
Last year Angus’s story was translated into a stage play by the Horse and Bamboo theatre company who commissioned Caithness artist Joanne Kaar to produce copies of Angus’s woven pieces. Whitworth Art Gallery invited the company to perform the play as part of their Arts for Health programme and Joanne to work for a week as artist in residence at the gallery. The play was hosted by Lime Arts at Central Manchester Hospitals on Oxford Road.
Inspired by the beautifully imagined and emotive play and Angus’s life itself, community group ‘Out in the City’ worked with Joanne Kaar to learn how to produce their own woven grasses as she spent a week in residence at Whitworth Art Gallery. I was Joanne’s assistant for this part of the project and it was a real pleasure to meet and work with her. Over the following few months, the group went on to work at Manchester Museum’s herbarium with poet Tony Sheppard and myself to create an installation of poetry and visual art that opened last Sunday, 10th Feburary. The installation will be in place until 26th May.