Surface Gallery

Outspeak, an exhibition of work by recent graduate Ian Nesbitt, has a strong community-work ideal, and is thus a challenging undertaking for a contemporary gallery. The exhibition space is dominated by ten television sets, each featuring a single story playing on DVD and accompanied by the protagonists’ photographs and first names. As part of the exhibition there is a display of illustrations by Kevin Chettle, one of the participants and also a booklet called ‘My story on the streets’ featuring the story of Brian and Stuart who also participated in the project. Kevin, Brian and Stuart were available most days in the gallery to share their experiences with interested visitors.

Outspeak was the result of months of development of a collaborative relationship between Ian Nesbitt (affectionately known by the participants as Nez) and eleven people with experience of homelessness. The process is evident in the interaction between Nesbitt and each participant, both through the videos and at the private view. The length of time Nesbitt spent with each participant is also suggested by the videos, which have a cumulative duration to rival the extended trilogy of Lord of the Rings.

One of the many interesting things about this project is the way in which the artist’s role becomes that of conduit, and this leads to a disappearing act as the voices of the participants move to the forefront of the work. It is apparent that what these people have to say is both important and interesting, and their position is undoubtedly on equal par with that of the artist.

A remarkable feature of the taped conversations, which was also noticeable at the private view and through conversation with Kevin, Brian and Stuart, was the positive attitude of the majority of the participants. Whether this was a result of the project, and a response to feeling listened to, or whether this is a more general approach is unclear. This fact brings home all the more potently the realisation that these kinds of stories are so rarely heard.

Outspeak makes a very striking political statement, though this is not where the project’s success lies. Ian Nesbitt has sensitively created a space for the participants to reach out to other people, not as examples or outcasts, but as members of the Nottingham community who deserve to have their say just like everybody else. To present this challenging work without over-sentimentalising and inducing guilt is an unbelievable achievement.