Theatre Degasten co-create an online zine with young people in Manchester and Amsterdam for Mindscapes Festival: Kate Lovell had a virtual leaf through its pages.
“I feel like the world has stopped”: an epitaph for the last fifteen months and a potent line from a poem written by a contributor to Outside Inside Out. Welcome to the ‘living zine’, showcased as part of Mindscapes Festival 2021, created by young people who have grown up in care both living in Amsterdam and Manchester. Theatre Degasten are an Amsterdam-based theatre company who focus on empowering young people to create what Degasten describe as ‘montage theatre’, which explores the contemporary experiences of the young people performing.
The online zine brings this collage style into the virtual space with a gorgeously textured collection of visual art, prose, poetry and photography created by both Dutch and British young artists. Outside Inside Out grew out of asking a question about the way the environment that we live in can impact upon the way we feel and the way we live. Never more relevant than during a period of time where we have spent an enforced period confined to the place we call home. Particularly critical for young people who may be living in home spaces that are not always chosen, that may lack the warmth that visitors can bring. Equally, this may also be the first space that is truly their own.
What’s so beguiling about the living zine is the way in which it appears to be homemade from paper scraps, Post-It notes, handwritten annotations in felt pen and collages of words and Polaroid pictures. Even more delightful is the invitation, scribbled in biro on a yellow sticky note, to move the artwork around the page using the mouse, and to try to match which names and hash-tagged words of description fit which creations. The ability to shift the pieces around gives the impression of creating the zine yourself as you explore. This really makes the zine feel like a living, breathing piece of art over which you have influence as the reader.
A striking image of a young person carrying a small red velvet birthday cake, bedecked with rainbow candles, sat on their bed wearing clownish make up, a forlorn facial expression, with the handwritten note: “My 22nd birthday in lockdown” lands at the top of the page on my first exploration. It’s an intimate moment and it is poignant to see a 22nd birthday taking place alone, dressed in casual clothes, sat cross legged on a single bed. There is no one at the party and no one to share the cake with. This image could sum up the past year for a great many and immortalises the milestones that have stacked up unmarked, neither shared nor seen.
Provocations for the zine reader to join in are scattered around the page on scraps of crumpled paper, in black type as if torn from a book, both English and Dutch on each invitation. The instruction “draw yourself inside out / outside in” pulls me to next examine a photo of a young woman whose face is obscured by sticky notes with crudely drawn smiley faces, the words “brave face” tumbling beside her like tears. Another suggests to take polaroids to “capture all your different identities and create a new portrait with the images” which gives rise to a collection of domestic images obscured but also bound together by thread, mixed in with what read like the realities of a locked-down life lived in isolation: “Sleep, drink coffee and obsess over not smoking” and “Losing braincells on Facebook”.
Interestingly, Theatre Degasten are offering a very limited print run of the physical zine, which will be given to “a selection of Dutch care policy makers as an open invite to explore the world from the makers’ point of view”.
Care leavers are less likely to have a large support network and the transition from growing up in care to living an independent adult life is notoriously tricky. Thinking back to my own experience of leaving home, it was then that my ongoing mental health issues manifested and really took root. I am privileged to have a robust support network. I had people to turn to when I felt uncertain, when I started to bump my head against the rules and regulations of being a “functioning member of society”.
Without this network, people leaving care are left in precarious circumstances, and this past year of isolation and strange new way of being can only have exacerbated the already mountainous challenge of embarking on adult life.
Typewritten words encircled with blue biro by Luna and Dionne in a prose piece spell out a pertinent message: “Life just started. Are we in charge of life?” Scattered across the site, hash-tagged words written in coloured felt tips speak loud about the topics at the forefront of the mind of the zine creators: control, choices, expectations, home, friendship, transformation, future. But they also proudly proclaim personality: punk, protest, drag, bold, hip hop, werewolf, becoming.
Outside Inside Out provides a rare window into a hidden world within a hidden world: the stories of young care leavers are so seldom told, and hardly ever in their own words. This living zine opens the door into the most secret of domains: home spaces, bedrooms and innermost thoughts. It’s a privilege to be invited into the domestic spheres of the zine creators and to wander through the glorious patchwork of life experience told by those living it.