Adam Farah Creates a Y2K Sensory Time Warp

At Camden Art Centre, the artist creates a teenage dreamland with mini discs, Mariah Carey and grape soda to evoke inmate adolescent memories    

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BY Kevin Brazil in Exhibition Reviews , UK Reviews | 08 NOV 21

The first thing you notice on entering Adam Farah’s one-room exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, ‘What I’ve Learned from You and Myself…’, is the smell. An ex-boyfriend’s cedarwood candle? A uncle’s Magic Tree car freshener? The scent permeating the gallery – according to the assistant instructed to spray it at regular intervals, enacting a work called The Year I Stopped Making Art (all works 2021) – is, in fact, a knock-off of Le Labo Santal 33. For Farah, perhaps, that was the smell of that year. For anyone else, the scent will bring up their own associations. Smell might be the most primal sense for evoking memory, but it is also the most intimate. Sensations that trigger one association for us can provoke an entirely different response in someone else. Those connections between sense and memory that seem so necessary to us are revealed to be impersonal and contingent: the products of mere chance.  

Adam Farah
Adam Farah, ‘WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM YOU AND MYSELF: (PEAK MOMENTATIONS / INSIDE MY VELVET ROPE MIX)’, 2021, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Camden Arts Centre; photograph: Rob Harris

Farah’s installation is populated with just such sensory experiences: specific enough to have come from the artist’s own life yet abstracted to the point where they can trigger any viewer’s own memories. The show is centred around T1M£ (The Endz Portorbital Alchemical Mix), a low fountain that bubbles with purple grape soda, surrounded by a cream carpet covered in clear PVC. For Farah: the drink of choice in their school. For me: an aunt who could never unwrap her new furniture. (For someone else: a living room prepared for a sex party?) The title Farah gives to two changing-room benches flanking the fountain – Sorry Mate (TRIGGERED & CHILL) – underlines the exhibition’s intention to explore the provocation of memories and feelings by charged objects. 

Two floating walls at either end of the room screen LoW ViBrAtiOnAl (THE MICRODOSE BIRTHDAY MIX), a video of Farah cycling around London and host a listening post of CDs: Sugababes, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, whose appearance on surrounding posters reveals her as the exhibition’s animating inspiration. The glossy textures that comprise her look are featured in ANYMORE PICS? – five collections of photographs mounted in flip-file wall poster displays. Many of the images in the show hover on the edge of specificity: condensation on a bus window; a drag queen reduced to a pink blur in a club. They betray Farah’s uncanny ability to record and produce sensory experiences that are themselves uncanny: sensations that are both familiar and strange, where we simultaneously feel at home and like we don’t belong, because we see that our private responses can be shared by others. 

Adam Farah
Adam Farah, ‘WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM YOU AND MYSELF: (PEAK MOMENTATIONS / INSIDE MY VELVET ROPE MIX)’, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Camden Arts Centre; photograph: Rob Harris

A recurring preoccupation is technology from the early-2000s: Mini Disc players, Nokia flip phones, the first iPod. These photographs personalize the show, tying it to a single historical and autobiographical context. They fall foul of one of Carey’s own lessons. In ‘Dedicated’ (2014), she begins a duet with Nas by mocking his nostalgia for the glory days of hip hop. She shares his impulse: ‘It was so real; I wanna feel that again.’ But, while Nas longs for the past, Carey ends the song performing the timeless whistle-note that has been her signature since she started singing. Nostalgia is easy: it is manufactured for us by the planned obsolescence of consumer technology, which wants us to measure our lives by the progressive updates of our devices. Art can make our memories strange, even to ourselves. In the exhibition’s accompanying notes, Farah writes that this show is about ‘mourning’ and ‘shedding the skin of life’. Served up to be remade by others, Farah’s most intimate sensory experiences become other to the artist, too: those past associations coming to belong to someone else.

Adam Farah, ‘WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM YOU AND MYSELF: (PEAK MOMENTATIONS / INSIDE MY VELVET ROPE MIX)’ runs at Camden Art Centre until 23 December. 

Main image: Adam Farah, ‘WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM YOU AND MYSELF: (PEAK MOMENTATIONS / INSIDE MY VELVET ROPE MIX)’, 2021, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Camden Arts Centre; photograph: Rob Harris

Kevin Brazil is a writer and critic based in London, UK. His book, What Ever Happened to Queer Happiness is forthcoming from Influx Press.

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