Sunday 25th March 2018
The Lunchtime Conversations have, over the last eighteen months, provided a staple diet here at BasementArtsProject. With a healthy balance of art, food and chatter these events have become part of our social calendar surrounding each exhibition. And so on the first day of spring, ten days after the preview night for The Way You Are Is The Way You Are (The Soft Rains of England), BasementArtsProject hosted a Lunchtime Conversation with artist Sohail Khan.
BasementArtsProject, whilst being an exhibition, project and event space, is first and foremost a family home, and it is this duality, the push and pull of daily life alongside the staging of art projects, that we put at the front of our agenda. Here, art is not about separation from the rest of the world, there are no white walls, clean spaces and clear surfaces allowing the work to speak, here the work just has to raise it’s voice and enunciate. This is not a project that trades off the hushed and reverential tones often reserved for discussions around art, there are enough of such places already in existence, here we take a different view, and therefore a different approach. At BasementArtsProject the work must exist alongside everything else, be able to hold it’s own in a conversation, interact with it’s surroundings whilst at the same time standing out and stating ‘this is me, this is who I am, take me as you find me, but stay and get to know me.’ This admittedly strange anthropomorphism of artworks is analogous to human behaviour in so much it is a product of human endeavour, and it is through our endeavours that we give to others, and others gain an understanding of us; furthermore our art is an attempt to make sense of the world around us and those we interact with.
Much of what we do at BasementArtsProject is driven by the idea that If you take art, of any description, and place it in an environment that people feel unafraid to ask questions and in which they can find acceptance on their own terms, then it may be possible to encourage a new audience, one that had perhaps never before considered art as something that may be of interest to them. Over the years we have seen an audience that is almost equal parts regular art event attendees and local community members, so maybe there is something in this. Even the most provocative or experimental exhibitions staged at BasementArtsProject have found an accepting audience from both sections of our audience. The ideal scenario is one in which questions are asked, thoughts are aired, discussions are had and people leave feeling that, regardless of whether or not they liked the work, they spent their time engaging with the principles behind it.
Making Peace With The Past
One comment made by a visitor to Sohail Khan’s exhibition on the first weekend related to Live Art’s seeming necessity to engender a feeling of alienation and discomfort in order to get it’s kicks. Talking to Khan about this question over lunch on the first Sunday of spring, as the Lunchtime Conversation guests gathered around the kitchen to partake in the free meal on offer, we discussed the nature of how we remember things and how our minds process things that have happened to us in the past. Being forced to consider how certain events have made us feel allows us a way to deal with and potentially make peace with our past. For Khan the process of setting up a performance necessarily means setting up an air of disquiet in which to work, for him this is the past colliding with the present.
People often bemoan such things as the lack of beauty in contemporary art, or the depressing nature of lyrics in contemporary music but to do this is to ignore what has led us to this point, and that not all in life is beautiful. The Way You Are Is The Way You Are (The Soft Rains of England) takes as it's point of departure, and is informed by, the artist’s life as a second generation person of mixed race German and Asian heritage, and how these works trace the political and social constructions defining life in the UK over the last half a century. The visual aspect of this exhibition delves further back into the artists own fascination with ancient culture featuring playful homages to neolithic art and various forms of African and Indian tribal art. Travelling further down this long and winding path of key historical moments; in which Churchill sheds tears for the people of East Bengal, and the ritual magic of ancient cultures is transmogrified into weapons of highly advanced technological warfare, we become aware of the nature of discomfort as felt by others.
Whilst sat in the kitchen with a visitor on Saturday afternoon discussing her thoughts on the exhibition downstairs, she points out the somewhat apposite nature of the daily aphorism on the calendar by artist Garry Barker thats states ‘It is analogy that will connect your past to your present’.
Jim Fixed It
On the opening night of the exhibition an uneasy sense of nostalgia prevailed amongst the older visitors. Khan; sat at a table with a bottle of whisky and puffing away on stage cigarettes, created an atmosphere redolent of the 1970’s. The air hung thick with smoke and quiet static filled conversations emanating from an antique cassette machine. Every now and then the air is filled with short bursts of music; Elgar’s Nimrod - a quintessential slice of English pastoral music, The Sun Has Got His Hat On, The Whispering Grass . . .
“Why do you whisper, green grass?
Why tell the trees what ain't so ?
Whispering Grass, the trees don't have to know.
No, No, Why tell them all your secrets?”
Snippets from the opening theme tune to Jim’ll Fix It. Elsewhere Margaret Thatcher speaks to the house about wealth creation and the gap between rich and poor. Yes this exhibition and it’s associated performance is about nostalgia but it is also a warning about nostalgia. Memory is bound up in experience and as we get older our tendency is to hold on to the things which provide us with a clear picture of our feelings at particular moments in time. My own memory of the Jim’ll Fix it theme is one that transports me back to the Wirral of the late 1970’s; Ford Cortina’s, upstairs smoking on buses, the demolition of tower blocks and the corner newsagent every Sunday morning. This kind of specific emotional link to a time and place through music was echoed by at least one other visitor to the exhibition, and specifically ignores our memory of what Jimmy Savile came to represent in the years after his death. Sometimes these memories are so ingrained in our psyche that it becomes impossible to dislodge the trope.
I remember spending an afternoon at the Holbeck Moor Summer Festival a couple of years ago and a local councillor was giving out medals to the children involved in the singing contest. As he approached the second runner-up he turned to the audience and said “this is great this, I feel like Jimmy Savile” Smatter of nervous laughter amongst the audience, dawning realisation
“erm, maybe not”
Later on, somewhere on Facebook, a comment left by a visitor states: "I'm still slightly reeling from hearing the theme tune for Jim'll Fix It."
As the old joke goes . . . nostalgia is not what it used to be
Bruce Davies | March 2018
Sohail Khan’s exhibition The Way You Are Is The Way You Are ‘The Soft Rains of England’ remains open by appointment until Monday 2nd April. Please contact Bruce Davies on 0750 672 1504 or on firstname.lastname@example.org
There will be a full write up on this project with documentation soon after the exhibition closes.