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The Castle Builder


by The Castle Builder, Kid Carpet and Vic Llewellyn.

A new performance by Vic Llewellyn and Kid Carpet, introduced here by Kid Carpet. The show is being performed at the Mayfest Bristol 12, 13 and 14 May. More information can be found at: mayfestbristol.co.uk

The Castle Builder tells the true story of an inmate in a Norwegian psychiat-ric institute who over five years, built a castle on a remote headland. The show spirals outwards from personal accounts into tales of other outsider artists who’ve been inspired to build gigantic extraordinary structures, alone, in secret, and without artistic validation from the real world.

Vic Llewellyn and I explore these stories in an emotional and hard rocking journey into the hearts and souls on the outer limits of creativity and building regulations. Presented in an odd and exciting format, The Castle Builder is a weird and wild mash-up of documentary, storytelling, rock gig, performance and projections.

Do Outsider Artists who build illegal, dangerous and massive structures suffer from mental health problems or are they artistic eccentrics who are channeling visions?

Some people go mad, lose it, smash up the place where they live and the lives that sur-round them. Others internalize their sorrow and loneliness, keep it to themselves, bottle it up and intensify the problem. Some get a shed or go fishing. Some people get profes-sional counselling.

Olaf built a castle.

Pretending to have a job, he persuaded his keepers at the institute for the mentally ill in Kristiansand, Norway to let him out on day release. He was deemed no threat to anyone and working could only increase his chances of successful adjustment back into society. Secretly, he was removing the stones from ancient Viking burial mounds and installing them at his chosen site on the headland overlooking the sea. His castle stood for a few years before the authorities took it down and returned the stones to their rightful places.

Vic Llewellyn caught a glimpse of Olaf’s castle while he was in Kristiansand performing a show called Rust with Green Ginger. He told me about the story while we were performing together in a production in Bristol. The two of us started investigating castle builders…

Jim Bishop has been building Bishop Castle in Colorado, USA for well over 37 years. It’s 160 feet tall and has a fire breathing dragon made out of a hot air balloon furnace atop one of the turrets. He’s built it all himself by hand.

Tressa ‘Grandma’ Prisbrey made a village out of bottles in Simi Valley, California. The first bottle house she constructed was to keep her collection of pencils. She’d find materi-als at the dump with which to build. It’s now a historical landmark. She had seven chil-dren and six of them died young.

Ferdinand Cheval was a French postman who spent 33 years building Le Palais Idéal, his ideal palace in his vegetable patch behind his house, in Hauterives, France. It’s extraordi-nary. André Breton, Picasso and Max Ernst were big fans, his face was even put on a post-age stamp. Ferdinand got the idea after his foot bumped into a rock by chance, a stone so intricately beautiful and infinitely mysterious that it reminded him of his dreams. He set to work and claimed to have never slept again.

We found the format for our show by a similar fluke. We didn’t bump into any rocks but had agreed to perform a work-in-progress sharing of what we were up to, only to realize that we had no time to rehearse. We had to go for it regardless and it turned out to really work. We ditched the more theatrical elements and told our stories fairly straight (with our trousers round our ankles and screaming about dragons).

We feel moved by these people, their art and their incredible drive, much more so than we’ve felt in any Bristol art gallery lately, or any book, gig or film for that matter. This is real, visceral, honest and right on the edge of what’s allowed, recognized and deemed ‘good’ by the art scene and the authorities. These people are flipping the bird to all cor-ners and it’s beautiful. What they’ve made can’t be bought on a postcard (unless your mate Picasso draws one for you) and their obsessive working and energy is almost scary.

We’ve made this show, The Castle Builder, about these people and their wonderful obsessions, their self-prescribed art therapy. We’ve fallen in love with these stories and characters and are attempting to put a supportive arm around them, protect them, keep them safe and shine a spotlight on their incredible endeavour and work.

The Art Brut movement may have originated as a discovery made by Victorian collectors visiting sanitariums and finding inmates’ sculptures fashioned from chewed bread. Out-sider Art may have blossomed and sprawled out from those institutional discoveries and many of its makers have their compulsions and oddities but they’ve found a path, a call-ing and are creating their vision of their world for themselves.

We want our audience to consider their own inner artist. What mark are you leaving on the world?

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