Jokes And Genius:
Babak Ganjei At Browns East
Babak Ganjei says he doesn’t take himself too seriously, yet there’s no doubt that he’s a seriously great artist. Known for his witty, self-deprecating slogans and hilarious “Film Idea” series, Babak’s work says the things we’re all thinking, capturing the silly side of life in a way that is both tender and hilarious. Bringing together a collection of over 40 original works in the Browns East gallery space, we hear more from the man himself.
Hello Babak! Can you tell us who you are and what you do?
Hello! Why do we always start with the hardest two questions? I’m Babak, an artist based in East London are the basic answers.
Where did you grow up and where are you currently based?
I grew up in London around Primrose Hill until the age of 11. Then we took a weird turn to Bournemouth, guaranteeing that our teenage years were spent understanding what it is to be an outsider, before I came running back to London for Art School.
How would you describe your work? What was your route into art-making?
I’m basically living out a real life sitcom. I think the actual artwork is just a byproduct of the show.
You don’t take yourself too seriously and that’s what people love about your art. Would you agree?
The work doesn’t take itself seriously, but I take nonsense very seriously.
When it comes to your work, what are the most important factors for you?
I guess it’s honesty. There are so many people making work and so many more ways of having it seen these days, and so it’s easy for people to make similar things. The only thing that then sets you apart is where your work comes from; if you can trace back the root of it. It’s not often apparent in the moment, but if it’s honest then over time, everything holds up.
Your pieces are very “instagrammable” – what is your relationship with social media?
For a while my gallery was my radiator in the corridor of my flat. I would just prop frames on it and hit send via Instagram. It’s given me a platform from which to exhibit that previously didn’t exist. I guess I’m just always wanting to communicate an idea to people so I subconsciously do things that would fit the medium, but I also have works that I know won’t translate to the medium.
It’s a challenge to make something that will grab somebody instantly but then also have lasting appeal. I guess that’s where the honesty comes in again. Social media has definitely been important in getting my work seen, but I think it’s really important to have a foot in the real world. In your last moments, as your life flashes before your eyes, you don’t want to have those memories be you hitting publish on some good Instagram posts. That’s why it’s so nice to be doing the show at Browns and having a physical presence for a bit.
Say you’ve run out of ideas. What do you do to get another good one?
I go for a walk. I spend a considerable portion of the day just wandering about. It’s good for thinking. Also, I can’t drive or ride a bike! During the pandemic I started running, but the only thing I’m thinking when I’m doing that is “I want to stop running.”
Can you tell us a bit about your “Film Idea” series?
About 10 years ago I replied to a Twitter thread about a fart that the comedian Rob Delaney had written. He was in the States at the time so it was late. Then I woke up and had these six Hollywood producers following me. I never really understood Twitter (still don’t), and I don’t really get on with its transient nature, so I used it solely to pitch Film Ideas to these six producers.
Over the years there were probably a couple hundred, Twitter was a good medium because you had to get the idea across in 140 characters. Saying that they didn’t go very far and no producer got in touch to make “Cat Flap Time Machine.” Years later I was sick and stuck at home, so I started writing these Tweets out on large sheets of paper and Instagramming them and they started to find a home. It was interesting because Instagram is a visual medium but the words fared much better there.
Babak’s exhibition on view at Browns East.
You’re also a host on NTS radio. What kind of things do you play and does this influence your artworks?
I’ve been hosting a show called Hot Mess now for over seven years. I spent years playing in bands, and I owe a lot of my art education to Sonic Youth. These days the show is a bit broader musically. It’s basically just a giant mixtape, and I’ve got a bit better at recording myself talking to myself like a madman.
Both NTS radio and Browns East are local East London landmarks. What does your East London community mean to you and what are your favourite spots?
I moved to East London in 1998. It’s changed so much and in some ways not at all. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Rio cinema, but ultimately I love to just walk around. East London is perfect because it’s split with urban and green space - you can do it all.
If you could own a work by one artist, who would it be and why?
Today I would take one of Tom Friedman’s oversized cereal boxes. He would buy multiple boxes of cereal and cut them up into small pieces then remake then put them back together as these sort of large slightly distorted versions of the same thing. Just to remind me to embrace nonsense.
You’re given a million pounds to make an artwork. What does it look like and where is it?
If I absolutely had to spend a million pounds on a piece of art, I imagine it would need to serve the community. So probably a bouncy castle the size of Westfield Shopping centre plonked on top of Westfield shopping centre.
Babak’s exhibition will be on view at Browns East from 27th May - 2nd October 2021.
Interview by Georgia Graham
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