ARTS & CULTURE
By Pamir Kiciman
There’s an experimental art space in Chapel Hill. It’s tucked away and under the radar.
The only way to find this art space is to sign up for the mailing list online. There aren’t regular hours and the space is unexpected, surprising even. When you enter it, your senses, mind and feelings are already sharper and curious.
The space is sunken. That’s why it’s called BASEMENT Art Space. None of it is totally finished, there are exposed pipes, access panels marked with “Future AC,” with the entrance room being the most unfinished, showing insulation and a water heater.
There are exposed beams overhead and the floor is concrete. After the room at the entrance, there’s another large room, with one small portion partially sectioned off for video and sound installations.
The entire space is minimal and raw. The perfect environment for creation to happen.
The current exhibition at BASEMENT is “Limestone Almanac,” which features three distinct artists.
BASEMENT curates artists for exhibitions through engagement.
“We watch for recent graduates of nearby art programs, search artists’ websites and social media feeds, and attend local and regional exhibitions,” BASEMENT responded in an email Q&A (answers were from the collective team; all quotes are from the team).
While the artists are distinct, “Limestone Almanac” has a central theme of acknowledging, “the damaged relationships with the land, community, and the self; it calls upon the lost, found, and imagined practices of a culture of connection and restorative actions,” according to BASEMENT’s website.
Themes for the exhibitions emerge in ongoing dialog between the BASEMENT team and artists.
“Generally, one or two of us take the curatorial lead and shape the exhibition theme and content,” BASEMENT wrote.
Upon entering the exhibition, the first room is filled up with Ayla Gizlice’s “Of Primary Concern is the Possible Eutrophic Tendency of the Lake” and through the opening, you can see Billy Dee’s “Three-Fifths” hanging in the second room.
Gizlice’s entrance piece is striking with its length and heft of poplar on a steel table, over which are specifically arranged and shaped clay coffins filled with salt-preserved fish and fish bones. Both the clay for the vessels and the dead fish are from Jordan Lake. According to the exhibition guide these small sculptures, “honor the bodies of the fish that died as a result of human negligence…”
Up close it is haunting.
Billy Dee’s hanging fiber piece exudes order with its design and a sense of peace with its subtle swaying in the currents of the room, despite the fact that what inspired it is anything but lighthearted.
It was made in collaboration with Dee’s mother during a quilt-residency at UNC-Greensboro. The work is based on a passage in a book by Leila Taylor who writes about Blackness and the American gothic, that in part reads, “The formula requires not only the ability to see a person as a non-person (or rather to not see people at all, but as a population) but to un-see.”
On the other side of the second room at BASEMENT is Ayla Gizlice’s “Locus,” another Jordan Lake based creation that symbolizes the invisible chemical and microplastic pollution in waterways with tangible rocks and plastic waste collected around the lake. Steel rods of varying lengths join the rocks and plastic in an arrangement that’s backed into a corner with a jutting wall, which adds a sense of nature being choked.
Partially hidden behind a short wall are Jasper Lee’s video and sound installations, “Madness Is A Fully Instrumented Score,” and “May Day.”
Lee is an artist and musician who explores his preferred mediums as “tools for building community, creating ritual and engaging with folklore,” according to BASEMENT’s website.
He also runs the music label, Sweet Wreath, and is a performer and organizer in the experimental music scene of Birmingham, Alabama.
BASEMENT came together after members spotted a need for “alternate spaces to experience art.” As such, the team email said, “We wanted to build an artist-run space to showcase works of contemporary artists who are from or working in the South.”
Artist-run means it doesn’t have institutional overlords.
“In particular, we look to build relationships with artists who are underrepresented in traditional art venues and whose critical, experimental, and/or research-based practices address relevant social and political issues,” is how BASEMENT described what it represents.
An important factor that leads BASEMENT’s “project space ethos,” is that it endorses “critical art practices.” Essentially these are approaches to artmaking that aren’t about art for art’s sake.
BASEMENT’s email put it like this: “Unlike art venues that are commercially driven, we provide a space for those artists and art viewers who view art as a means of sparking discourse about pertinent issues in contemporary art and society.”
For example, the three artists in “Limestone Almanac” are described as “citizen-artists.” According to Ayla Gizlice, who was the only artist able to respond to email queries for the article, being a citizen-artist, “means looking beyond ourselves and being an active, participating member of our community.”
About her two pieces in the exhibition, Gizlice wrote, “In this body of work I consider the implications that the damming of the Haw River has had on our area, specifically through the lens of water pollution and eutrophication.”
Gizlice proposes serious questions in the quest to change the status quo of what isn’t working in society and the world. Questions that hold humanity accountable to the future and ask, “What if the future and non-human entities held legal weight?”
Artists such as Gizlice have deep considerations about their place in time and on the planet, as evidenced by what she emailed regarding her clay coffins and dead lake fish.
“I attempt to honor the bones and bodies of dead fish as an act of overdue care,” she said.
This is perfectly in line with what makes BASEMENT tick: “As an art space we are interested in critical art practices because we understand the role of art in engaging in social and political conversations that are pertinent to our current moment.”
Have your own conversations by signing up for BASEMENT’s mailing list and visiting the current exhibition on Friday, June 24 by appointment, or attend the closing reception on June 25, 6-8 pm.
You can also learn about Digital Residencies and Studio Snacks, two online ways to experience art that BASEMENT also offers. For further info, visit: https://www.basementartspace.com/about.
This article was updated on Jan. 12, 2023, to include the detail photo collage of Ayla Gizlice’s artwork, its descriptive information and the photo credit.
Pamir Kiciman is a writer/poet, artist/artisan, photographer, healer, and meditation teacher. To learn more, visit https://liinks.co/reiki.wordsmith or contact him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.