Artists Without Homes: ‘Creativity is not a privilege, it’s a birthright.’

London based Chairman Kato announces ‘Lost And Found // Artists Without Homes’

After two successful installations at the V&A, artist and musician Chairman Kato has┬árevealed his latest project, ‘Lost And Found // Artists Without Homes’, an exploration of how ‘creativity can thrive in the most unlikely and difficult of circumstances.’ The project arose from a chance encounter in East London with a homeless man selling poetry.

The launch of the project focuses on that man, Yorkie, a 34 year old resident of the streets of Shoreditch. After many arduous years of abuse, violence and addiction, Yorkie sought solace on Shoreditch streets in order to pursue his dream of becoming a published poet. A full and sincere statement from Yorkie, including a graphic depiction of his past can be read here.

After months of working with homeless people and requesting them to consider their creativity, and with more to follow, we caught up with Chairman Kato to delve a little deeper.

Can you elaborate on the chance encounter with Yorkie?

I was on the way to a Midnight Davis band rehearsal one morning, passing through the bridge at Shoreditch High Street station. Yorkie was there asking for change- nothing remarkable about that, except he had a stack of papers next to him, each sheet individually filed in a transparent wallet. I stopped and asked him what he was up to and he told me he was a poet. I was pretty intrigued so I asked to see some examples. That was the beginning of our relationship and, without knowing it, the beginning of Lost and Found.

What appealed to you about his work?

I bought a poem from him called ‘One Does Wonder’ and framed it when I got home. I was struck by the honest sincerity of his work. I didn’t know him at that point but obviously a person in his position will have been through a lot of awful things. Yet his message didn’t dwell on the darkness at all. To me his poetry shows an understanding of some of the simple, beautiful truths of life.

How long has he been writing poetry for?

Yorkie learnt to read and write in prison 5 years ago, so he hasn’t been writing for long. I get the impression from him that learning those basic skills was a bit of a ground zero moment for him- the moment when he had found a real affinity for self expression.

Skunk Poem by Yorkie

How many artists without homes are participating?

Well, I’ve been talking to a lot of homeless people about the project and there’s been a lot of enthusiasm but at the same time this is a demographic with a lot of serious and complex problems. Patience is paramount for this project. It simply wouldn’t be appropriate or sensitive to go around and get in peoples’ faces about some art project when they have other priorities to consider. So it’s very much a case of talk to people, give out cameras and see what comes back. The most important thing is to build relationships with people over time and see if they are interested enough to participate. So there’s no fixed number, people are always dropping in and out, such is the nature of the project. There’s a young guy in Shoreditch who has had a camera for a couple of months now but refuses to give it back to me. He’s shown me the camera to prove he hasn’t lost it but has some specific ideas for the remaining shots. I love that.

Yorkie’s statement portrays him as a potentially intimidating character. He seems to have experienced a hideous side to life that thankfully most of us haven’t. How was it interacting and working with him?

There’s no denying that Yorkie has been through serious trauma. No-one should have to go through what he has experienced and I was just as shocked as everyone else when I read his story. Having said that, he’s been a joy to work with so far. He’s punctual, reliable and open to anything. He’s been in dark places, done some dark things, but his poetry gives his life meaning. It’s important for me to have a good relationship with anyone I work with, and this project is the same. Yorkie is very friendly and he’s well known in Shoreditch. I’ve seen quite a few people bring him his signature hot chocolate with 7 sugars.

Did you approach this project with the intention to challenge the prejudice towards homeless people or was that serendipitous?

I’ve always been clear in my mind that Lost and Found is an artistic project. I never had any designs to challenge people or to try and raise awareness. This is about creativity, much like my other projects. I’m under no illusions about Edwina Currie coming across the site and volunteering to work for Shelter, for example. But I believe the role of art is to reflect certain truths- truths about our individual lives, and about society. In this way Lost and Found provides an insight and perspective into a maligned subculture. Those who pour scorn on the homeless won’t think much of this project and I’m fine with that. For me it’s more interesting to ask ‘why?’, to look further than our assumptions and really find out what people in desperate situations have to say about themselves and their world.

Artists without homes 3

Did the prospect of being too intrusive ever cross your mind? Some of the images are very graphic.

I’m very hands off with the people I work with. I don’t tell them what to write or what to photograph. I just encourage them to be truthful and spontaneous. I’m just the curator of this particular project. So yeah, there is some gritty material up there but Lost and Found is about being truthful, about showing a perspective. I’m sure some people will find some of the images difficult to stomach, but that’s to be expected I think, given the nature of what we are documenting here. I am keen to show that there’s more to people like Yorkie though. He’s done an essay entitled ‘Hope’ and we are discussing an accompanying photography project for him to crack on with. At the end of the day, homeless people are just that, ┬ápeople. They have problems, but they also have faith, they also have hope. So they have a lot to say.

What do you think this project reveals about art and creativity?

For me it’s been really inspiring. The fact that someone like Yorkie can go through hell but maintain his belief in his creativity just blows me away. He’s fallen so far that he’s got almost no ego and is a creative powerhouse. He’s got so much energy and so much belief in what he’s doing. I feel very strongly that creativity is not a privilege, it’s a birthright. In our society we seem to have surrendered that privilege in the pursuit of financial security and I find that very sad. Coming across people who have nothing but understand the value of self expression has been really rewarding. I was talking to a friend recently about Yorkie’s endless creative drive and she said ‘well he’s got nothing to lose’. I thought that was a sadly accurate reflection of a common attitude in our society, that we stand to lose something by making art. In my opinion we only stand to gain.

You could potentially facilitate Yorkie’s career and dream of becoming a recognised author. Are you apprehensive that this may detract him from his visceral creativity as he may end up with something to loose?

I feel a certain responsibility towards Yorkie, and I am aware that a rise in profile can bring in the old ego which likes to stamp all over creativity. As long as I’m working with him I hope I can help steer him through those issues. We’ve certainly got a good relationship, can’t ask for more than that really.

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Chairman Kato will be uploading more content from various homeless artists over the coming months. To view more poems from Yorkie and keep up with proceedings, click here.

Interview: Manveer Roda

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