The Alchemical Process and the 1014 Mile Long Table

It has been a while since the Studio Journal has been active due to the theft here at BasementArtsProject, resulting in the loss of both my computer and archive. Although I do now have a back up of most of the last ten years of work it is slow going, particularly with the last two years. Anyway I did find the post that I meant to upload the day after the last Lunchtime Conversation, with Michael Borkowsky in person at BasementArtsProject and Emilia Telese live and direct from Iceland via Skype. Although many of the photographs that I originally took of the exhibition have gone I have taken some new ones to accompany this journal entry. Apologies for the un-edited appearance of them I will be swapping them over once I have access to editing software again.

Despite all of this it has still been a busy time trying to realise the last exhibition of the year without the real tools to do it. But, do it we did and until Friday 21st December you can still catch Beyond Photography: ALCHEMY, a collaborative curatorial project between RightNow Studios and BasementArtsProject, during opening hours at Cafe 164, extended into a second week. As we now have an alternative venue for this show you can still catch Desire and Alchemy by Michael Borkowsky and Emilia Telese at BasementArtsProject itself by appointment until Monday 28th January 2019. Just call/text Bruce Davies on 0750 672 1504 or e-mail

Alchemy is a philosophical and proto-scientific practice that goes back as far as the ancient Egyptians in which the aim is to purify, change and perfect certain objects. The most common perception of this practice is in the desire to change base metals into precious ones. This explanation serves as a good metaphor for art in general in so much as it addresses the nature of creation in creative practices. Art objects do not arrive fully formed and their state of being is not one of passivity. Art objects begin their life as base materials which are then worked upon; whether shapes hewn out of rock or molded from clay, canvases applied with pigment to form images or, in the case of Desire and Alchemy, oils mixed together to form unique scents, all have been worked upon by the artist in order to create a final work with a new value. 


BasementArtsProject could be viewed in the same way; a utilitarian object, a domestic dwelling providing a home for a family of five, but also simultaneously engaging with the local and art communities in order to provide a hub for artistic activity. In the process of doing so the fabric of the building changes. The walls of the basement acquire new layers, marks left behind by past artists: a gold leaf circle here, a polka dot pattern there or remnants of glitter in the cobwebs of forgotten corners. At ground level the rooms and hallways become a repository for finished artworks bought, or donated, by those that have previously engaged with our ethos. The house, a family home, but also a living, breathing testament to the wealth of creative talent that this world has to offer. 

On Monday 28thJanuary we will say goodbye to Desire and Alchemy, the current collaborative exhibition by Sheffield based artist Michael Borkowsky and Italian born Emilia Telese, yet I suspect, as with many of their predecessors, it will be hard to remove all traces of  their work. The work of Borkowsky and Telese revolves around the perception of smell as a way of engaging in visual art practice. Desire and Alchemy is a very visual exhibition, Telese has created the most dramatic, and by her own admission as far as her practice is concerned, boldest, intervention yet. Both artists encourage physical engagement with their work, whether it is the scratch and sniff of Telese’s walk in installation, or the opportunity to try a number of perfumes created by Borkowsky and presented in his alchemical laboratory. The presence of the visitor activates the work and allows for a deeper understanding of the voluminous quality of scent. Smell, as with sound, can be sculptural as both can be made to fill entire spaces in a way that physical sculpture cannot, so much so that it becomes difficult to contain.


Michael Borkowsy has, since 2014, become a familiar presence at BasementArtsProject. Despite the extremely wide ranging number of processes involved in his practice, paints produced using food substances or installations featuring the studios of artists that he has never met or seen, the one thing that comes through each time is a sense of portraiture. Here the portraits are not literal interpretations of people, or places, but are instead imagined portraits constructed from conversations: Perfume as Practice, objects: Speculative Studios, or geographical regions through their food produce.  

Whilst Borkowsky articulates the alchemical aspect of this show with his series of scents, painting and objects that constitute an element of his extensive practice as an artist, Telese embodies the aspect of desire by shrinking the rear half of the basement to a room of much more intimate proportion. Every surface of the room, including floor and ceiling is papered in custom made wallpaper of different designs. Each design features Telese in a different guise from her work as a performance artist. Whether it is a sixties hippie, fifties American majorette or a ballerina, everywhere you look the artists face stares back at you, except from the floor where the ballerina staring down at you from the ceiling is, in the floor, staring down, away from you into a black void. Around you there is a powerful aroma that refers very much to the body and references Telese’s other practice as a performance artist. Each wall is applied with a different perfume, created by the artist in collaboration with Greek perfumier Spyros Drousopuolos. Depending on where you stand the overall smell of the room gives way to different shades as you approach different surfaces. Scratch the surface and the scent transfers to the fingertips.


The 1014 Mile Long Table

 Over the years BasementArtsProject has developed a number of exhibition related events designed to pique the interest of those whose background is not in art. For us, it is the prospect of conversations between those from very different backgrounds that drive us, this is after all how we gain an understanding of one another’s position in relation to the subject matter. The most successful and long-running of these initiatives are the Lunchtime Conversations. Here the artist is invited to come and have lunch with a group of people from the community, who have all signed up via Eventbrite, and then give a tour of their exhibition afterwards. The conversations over dinner are always informal and by the end, people who have never met before end up talking like they have known each other for years. The Lunchtime Conversation for Desire and Alchemy was a hugely successful event, which was booked to capacity and beyond, and featured Michael in person and Emilia, via Skype, from her home in Iceland. With the laptop placed at the head of the table we were able to commune with Emilia, also having lunch at her table, dressed as the fifties American majorette from the wallpaper downstairs. The vast distance between us dropped away during lunch as the conversation flowed naturally as though she were in the room with us.   

1 DSC_0616.JPG

The normally two hour long event eventually ended four hours later with people only leaving because they had to return to their jobs or collecting children from school. It felt like the conversation could have lasted well into the night if it had been possible. 

It has taken many years, seven and a half to be precise, to get to this point. A point at which people from very different backgrounds are able to walk into a house, also an exhibition, and walk around discussing what is happening without fear or inhibition. I am under no illusions though as to the importance in keeping the pedal to the metal and ensuring that this level of activity and engagement is maintained for the future. It is very easy for things such as art to drop out of sight when economic and political situations become stretched, as they are at present, but it is art that presents us with a cost free, to the viewer at least, form of communication and social life. If you don’t believe me then come and join us for our events at BasementArtsProject and experience for yourself the ability of art to transform. 

3 DSC_0669.JPG

Desire and Alchemy can be viewed by appointment until Monday 28thJanuary. To book an appointment contact Bruce Davies on basementartsproject@gmail.comor call / text on 0750 672 1504

Desire & Alchemy Photos 1,2, 3 & 4: Bruce Davies. Photos 5& 6 Robert Clarke

An alchemy all of its own overtook BasementArtsProject in October leading to two exhibitions with very similar titles but very different subject matter and outcomes. Desire and Alchemy looked at the role of scent in visual art amongst many other related aspects whilst Beyond Photography: ALCHEMY looked at the processes involved in taking photography beyond its perceived limits and into other realms. Until the burglary at BasementArtsProject, this project had been scheduled to take part in the basement itself and would have involved film works and other media. Instead, the project took place at Cafe 164, Munro House in the centre of Leeds. The none wall based works had to be omitted due to the nature of the new venue although I do believe that the curators from Beyond Photography will be looking into the works in other media at a later date. In its new venue the exhibition focused on works predominantly in the collage idiom whilst being extremely diverse in terms of the range of techniques on offer. Over the coming month or so I shall be speaking to Ryan Blackwell and Nastassia Winge, the curators behind the ALCHEMY exhibition at Cafe 164 and will present a larger piece of writing on their own work, their curatorial projects, fashion and other aspects of their work . Until then I shall leave you with a selection of images from the exhibition.


Beyond Photography: ALCHEMY Photos: Nastassia Winge

Announcement: The 2019 programme will be beginning in March with Yol / Lloyd / Posset. Opening with an improv performance and followed by a month long exhibition of artwork by the three performers, this exhibition will also promote their Basement Tapes recording; recorded in 2018 at BasementArtsProject in front of no. studio audience and released in December 2018 by Chocolate Monk

Follow BasementArtsProject in real time on their journey through life and art and the artists with whom we work on twitter @BasementArtsPro. Keep an eye on this years forthcoming project announcements using #BAProgramme2019

More project announcements to follow very soon . . . .