Hardeep Pandhal @ New Art Exchange & Primary, Nottingham
Emoji summary: 🌋 🥰 🌗
I knew I loved Hardeep’s work the first moment I laid eyes/ears on it, but what rly solidified this as True Love™️ was at Glasgow International. He’d scribbled ‘TAKE A TOUR WITH MRS HARD KAUR’ on the back of one of his cut-outs. I distinctly remember spluttering out a gut-laugh, live on insta-stories, flipping the camera round to my wheezing face as I cried ‘HARD KAUR??!’ Every time I remember that reference it rly does crack me up a bit; both bc I was so shocked to see Hard Kaur cited in the context of a gallery, even one as laid back as that. But also bc I’d never heard Hard Kaur referred to as MRS, for some reason the formality in address j cracked me up, n I creased. Idk, I feel like explaining it kills it a bit? All I know is from that moment, I knew me and Hardeep’s work, we were meant 2 b, togetha 4eva, real love. So anything I write about his work is sincerely just filtered through that.
The show - Paranoid Picnic: the Phantom BAME is split between New Art Exchange & Primary, both in Nottingham. This sprawl across the city feels like it’s matched in pace by the sprawl of the work. It’s really quite something when you step back for a moment, Hardeep’s work encompasses drawing, sculpture, literally fucking rapping, film/animation & knitwear; I would just like to say that I think it’s tbh rude that he does all of these things really quite well. In that sprawl, the spread across medium and manifestation, I think the work becomes something wholeheartedly transformative or transportive. Maybe that’s why I love it so much, bc it is just so easy to sink into its embrace, let yourself be hit by the full frontal force as it towers and crashes like a great wave.
The work at New Art Exchange is really nicely formal - it’s got on some nice trousers and its best shoes, it has leaned into the vibe of the building which a bit museum-y with its sharp white walls and sliding heavy doors. At the end of the long gallery is one of those long flat vitrines (?) with glass tops that galleries and museums use for retrospectives when they’re doin lil displays of like exhibition handouts or detritus. There’s a long drawing / collage of continually layered images running across it: sketchbook rip-outs, Simpsons screenshots, lil crinkly watercolours with dick jokes over the top in black gooey ink - it makes me feel a smug kind of satisfaction. I think it’s the satisfaction of when ur mate’s taking the piss out of someone, but they haven’t clocked? And ur j sat there, trying ur best to not let ur face turn n give the game away. It’s a nice, playful kinda facetious; and it feels like the meaty chunk-o of the show at NAE. A long sigh, upmarket, yet still with a cruddy sharper edge (both in its form and its content). There are some cut-outs of the weird slightly jarring/slightly funny figures that feature in the vitrine drawings, and they’re scattered around the space (one has a face hole for you to stick ur lil face through and take a pic of you in the scene, except the scene is two headless blue people beheading another pink person who’s bent over, only visible by their bum - ur head goes underneath the bent over bum). The whole thing is accompanied by Hardeep’s voice, soundtrack / accompaniment / side dish / backdrop. Hazy half-discernible narration, intermittent and affecting, it set the pace for my movement around the space more than acting as an audio-guide. This half of the show felt like a sly smirk, in-joke that I was in on.
The space in Primary is a bit more scraggly. As you walk in, you’re confronted with the back of a massive askew chipboard shed. The roof slopes up away from you. Round the side there’s a screen playing one of Hardeep’s animations, a scribble flashes up that reads: ‘The Orcs are marginalised / because they lack the organisation and purpose to overrun more desirable places’. Gab laughed loudly when she read it, called me over and we waited for it to loop so it could come up again. The front end of the shed opens up to a large projection; another animation cut with weird footage of (i’m guessing) Hardeep’s studio, his computer has a Glossier sticker on it. There’s a bench facing that has a lyric sheet tied to it. I turned to Gab and started singing along. This time, the soundtrack is less backing track, it’s more an interchangeable audio for both films. I swap back and forth between the two n I think it’s a lil wild that they both feel like they match the pace and rhythm of the audio so well. It’s a happy kind of fullness, the holistic perfection of synchronicity.
Hardeep’s work reminds me of my cousins. It’s a feeling I never really expected to feel in my art-world-life, one that I’ve q successfully kept compartmentalised out and away just for myself (for fear of turning it into spectacle / consumable object, rather than shame or diaspora poet dysphoria). It’s the same lad-humour of my cousin Sujan & his boys, zooming round Harrow n Kenton in their cars with the suspension lowered, banging bass boosted Sidhu Moosewala remixes out the subs in the boot. It’s funny in a serious and heavy way that confronts and meets the gaze that it expects to hit it. It’s tensed in anticipation, ready to catch the weight flying towards it. Actually, I think tensed is a rly good word to describe this show u kno! It’s got a kind of tensile energy in its flexibility and liquidity - it’s less about organised aesthetic or central concept underpinning the whole thing, and more about a feeling of imminent release. It’s unconcerned with its context or historicity - or perhaps its historicity is a closer knit, a more insular sensibility and logic both. Comfortingly familiar, held close to my chest on the side where my heart beats, it is a little other; — like myself & the people I love have been transported out of our bodies, reflected / projected, counterpart and specular image both. This is not representation, it is a hopeful relation lived in the imaginary.