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Review: Babak Ganjei: Thanks for Having Me, at Bluecoat

“I could keep going but there’s a part of me that is already thinking I need to keep this snappy in case it is published or printed on a wall.”

The opening line of Babak Ganjei’s solo show at Bluecoat (taken from a framed letter to Matt, his teenage friend, and former bandmate) is performance of the self in a uniquely dishonest form. It’s kind of brilliant.

There’s a version of Babak Ganjei that we get to see here and, for the most part, its probably true to life, but I get the feeling there is a stronger self-doubt and performance anxiety in the artist that isn’t even touched on here.

Exhibiting performance art is hard. That’s because you don’t have a relationship with your audience after opening night. It’s even harder when the performance is subtle; hidden.

It feels like this comes from the brief – The Life of Artists – that Bluecoat set. It doesn’t allow you to hide, so Babak Ganjei has to lean into old diaries, and probably swathes of Facebook memories to build something that resembles his teens, because for him, as with most artists, that’s where we started to explore creativity.

Of course there is a sense of performance to being an artist. It comes with the territory, but more often than not its hidden, and we get the finished result. In this case the finished result and the process are one and the same. As an audience, we get to roam, and chose which parts to listen to.

Again, that makes his job harder, because everyone should leave a performance having experience the same narrative. Thanks for Having Me does that, but by letting you select which parts of the artist to get to know.

Scripts for musical trials and errors, and plans for his future are laid out on a table in the first stage. But it’s the script that offers the clearest insight into this exhibition, and the clearest explanation its story:

“The camera pans below the nest and follows a man running for a bus. In one hand he is doing up his tie, in the other he is carrying his shoes, sock half on, trousers down, toast in mouth.

V/O (CONT’D)

Free from the rat race, from the social climbing, free from the trappings of structure and stability, paid holiday leave, a mortgage, and the respect of your parents. You chose this life. You chose freedom. You chose…you.”

(read from a script in the exhibition)

Babak Ganjei is sharing an internal monologue. Something you don’t often get to see in the shiny, polished exhibitions of the region’s major galleries. It’s a mix of doubt and pride, and it’s there to reassure us as much as him.

The remainder of the exhibition is made up of artworks and installations inspired by key moments in his life. From stories of misnaming that have stuck, to recreations of market stalls where he used to sell his work.

It feels grand, but personal at the same time, and completely relatable.

Thanks for Having Me is a wonderful mix of self-preservation and self-presentation, shared with the audience through a journey of self-representation. I adore it. It’s funny. It’s kind. It’s warm. It’s tragic. It’s hopeful. In a way.

I could keep going but there’s a part of me that is already thinking I need to keep this snappy in case it is published or printed on a wall.

Babak Ganjei: Thanks for Having Me is open at Bluecoat until 14th April 2024

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