INSIDE OUT is a global art project, open to everyone, which was launched by French street artist JR in Cailfornia on March 3rd 2011.

“It is about making invisible people visible.”

Anyone can take pictures of faces with “strong” expressions and upload them to the website insideoutproject.net.

JR and his crew create posters from these images; the posters are then sent back (presumably by post) to the original picture-takers to be stuck up on surfaces in their communities.

It is a logical extension of JR’s work so far, which has involved turning pictures of ordinary people’s faces into large posters and fly posting them on buildings… first in the Paris suburbs and then in the Middle East, Africa and South America.

JR believes that these images break down social barriers and prejudices by celebrating the humanity of individuals who would otherwise go unseen or unnoticed.

INSIDE OUT is being funded by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) – a non-profit organisation dedicated to ‘ideas worth spreading’.

Based in the United States, TED gives an award every year to an exceptional individual; the award consists of $100,000 and resources to grant ‘one wish to change the world’. 2010’s recipient was Jamie Oliver; JR received the TED Prize in 2011.

JR’s Wish is:
“I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world…INSIDE OUT.”

This film gives a fascinating and concise account of the development of JR’s work in his own words:

In conjunction with INSIDE OUT, Alexandra Arts and the children of St Mary’s C.E. School, Moss Side, have produced a series of portraits which are currently displayed outside the Windrush Millenium Centre on Alexandra Road.

Alexandra Arts is based at Alexandra Park, Whalley Range. Lead Artist Lotte Karlsen organised weekly photo shoots with sixteen children aged 6-7, from the St Mary’s School Art Club. The children took photos of each other whilst expressing their feelings about nature in the inner city.

Pictures were then chosen and enlarged to become the posters which can now be seen outside the Windrush Millenium Centre:

I must be honest and admit that some of the power of the images is lost as a result of the way in which they are displayed. When I first noticed them, I assumed they were a council-funded advert, similar to the ‘excellence in the city’ banners that appear outside many local schools, carrying anonymous photos of unknown children – probably child models.

The expressions of the children may have added to my incorrect assumption about the images; they are not the “strong” expressions originally called for by street artist JR. If they were, I think I would have looked twice at the artwork and asked more questions about what it was about.

However I can see that the project is bound to be tremendously exciting for the children involved, their friends, families and school, and now that I understand the context better I am impressed by it.

As public bodies, Alexandra Arts and St Mary’s Primary School can’t be involved in illegal fly-posting, so they have no choice but to display their images in a less provocative way than street artist JR might usually choose.

And there must be good reasons for avoiding the “strong” expressions originally called for by Inside Out originator JR. Or perhaps the children weren’t particularly animated when they were discussing ‘healthy relationships between people and landscapes’?

I am very suspicious of Lotte’s claim that the children’s message to the world is:

“We want humanity to realise that healthy relationships between people and landscapes are as important in the city as everywhere else.”/em>

This is an adult’s message not a child’s message. It seems to me that Lotte is using the children’s images to deliver her own message, which is fair enough, but let’s be honest about what’s going on!

A perfectly acceptable and believable children’s message to the wider community might have been:

“Look at us! We’re here and we’re important!”

Arguably, if this (or some other straight-forward, spontaneous idea) had been the children’s message, then the resulting artwork might have been more compelling and truer to JR’s original intentions when initiating INSIDE OUT.

The project would still be extremely relevant to Alexandra Arts as an excercise in community participation in the local environment, and communication through the environment.