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Leeds' Underground Art House

Leeds' Underground Art House
Written by BasementArtsProject  22/06/2015
Bruce Davies from BasementArtsProject introduces the arts space in a cellar with walls that stretch from Leeds to Stockholm, to New York and back again:
Somewhere, on the southern edge of the city, a five minute bus ride from the Leeds Corn Exchange, is a small mid-terrace house with a secret teetering on the verge of discovery. Behind the walls of this pre-war property live a family with something of a curious lifestyle. In an era in which Open House Exhibition Trails are fairly commonplace, the idea of someone using their house as an exhibition space may not seem too unusual, but for BasementArtsProject this concept has been pushed to quite an extreme.
Subjected To Change / May 2014 / Alistair Woods
 
Since 2011 BasementArtsProject has been working with artists from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds and giving them space and assistance to achieve their visions in the context of non-traditional art spaces. Alongside a programme of purchasing artworks from those with whom we work, control of the basement space is regularly given over to artists or collectives to stage exhibitions and events. The programme consists of a mixture of exhibitions commissioned by BasementArtsProject alongside proposals submitted independently by artists and curators. Over the years this concept has grown to include offsite exhibitions staged under the rubric of BasementArtsProject with collaborative projects such as Divided We Fall and SCIBase (SCI artist collective with BasementArtsProject) who have exhibited at Stockholm Independent Art Fair, Liverpool Biennial and 3rd on 3rd Gallery and Dykeman Young Galleries in Jamestown, New York. 
COLONIZE / April 2014 / Bruce Davies ‘Unsentimental Journey’ / Offsite exhibition in Jamestown, New York
 
Some of the earliest memories I have are of the times at which I was introduced to art as a concept, whether it be my dad sitting and teaching me how to draw on Sunday evenings during the 1970’s or, even earlier than this, being taken to the local art gallery, The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, and introduced to a world of Victorian painting and sculpture, religious furniture with subversive Darwinian messages, model ships, carved wooden lions and Arthur Dooley’s ‘Satan’. In recent years it has been these memories that have led me, in part, to create BasementArtsProject. Even in the most unlikely of circumstances you would be hard pressed to imagine a life passing by untouched by the creative world. Whether it be the furniture we sit on, galleries we visit, books we read or the more popular forms of culture such as theatres, cinemas and television programmes, all are the product of the creative spirit and so when people say, as they often do, ‘I don’t do art!’ I cannot but help think ‘How do you not ‘do art!” In my mind it is not so much a case of art mirroring life as it is a case of life and art existing in a state of symbiosis, one unable to exist without the other. Ultimately it is the idea that people’s formative experiences of art are the ones that stay with them and encourage an interest in art later in life. 
The other driving force that dominates the programme at BasementArtsProject, is the idea of creating a platform for emerging and established artists that allows them complete creative control over the realisation of their projects. Over the years we have run the gamut from painting through photography, performance and music, to sound art, lectures, films and workshops.  Since April 2011 we have worked with established artists such as Phill Hopkins, Patrick Morrissey and Hanz Hancock of Saturation Point and Dominic Hopkinson, at the same time presenting projects by the likes of 2013 BA Fine Art graduate Alistair Woods and national touring projects like Unravel: the longest hand painted film in Britain.
Such diverse programming has led to the recent description of BasementArtsProject as ‘an ultimately malleable space’, a sentiment that I could not agree with more.  Having presented work ranging from the stone sculptures and bronze casts of Dominic Hopkinson, the painting of Philip Gurrey and the performance work of artists such as Kimbal Quist Bumstead and Sara Zaltash to externally curated shows such as Other Rooms and Roadside Museum, I can honestly say that no two exhibitions have ever felt the same. Going back to our early days in mid-2011, we have always ensured that the curated side of BasementArtsProject that looks at presenting and promoting the work of those for whom art is a lifelong pursuit, runs parallel to projects looking at how people engage with art from communities such as the one in which we operate on the edge of the city. This has been made manifest in projects such as the ArtRun, a 10k tour of the city’s art scene at speed, and ‘30: six short films about ritual’ in collaboration with Leeds Beckett University and the community of South Leeds. Both of these projects were devised and initiated by Basement’s other resident organiser Deborah Davies. 
Other Rooms / Jan 2015 / Sarah Sparkes ‘Flue’ / Ben Woodeson ‘Super Sexy Sculpture, Oh Yeah!’
 
And so as we prepare to open our next exhibition, a project that will see three exhibitions over three years by BA Fine Art undergraduate Samela Otoviç of Leeds Beckett University, charting her progress from year one through to graduation, we look to the future of what an independent, literally underground, artist run organization can achieve. It is my belief that in life achievement should be a continual process. It is not a coincidence that an artist’s career is defined as ‘a practice’ the implication being that it is not necessarily arrival at a conclusion that is most important, but the process of how you try and get wherever ‘there’ may be. I would hope that this applies as much to BasementArtsProject, which is in any case an artist-led organisation, as it does to those whom we look to now, at the beginning of their careers as artists, and wonder what the future holds in store for them. Truly exciting times. 
BasementArtsProject would like to thank all of those they have worked with over the last four years but in particular Derek Horton (&Model), Annie Bedford, Bhavani Esapathi, Lydia Catterall, David Cotton and Anna Ratcliffe: all of whom have sat on the management committee at some point and helped us make some big decisions. 
Lead image: Roadside Museum / May 2015  / Left – Right / Veronika Lukasova ‘In Time / Underground Occurences’ / Topp & Dubio ‘All Your Favourite Projects’
 
All images by Bruce Davies apart from Other Rooms taken by David Cotton
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