In the modern world of instant gratification and cyber surface scratching, sometimes you need to dig a little deeper.
Instead of dipping his toes in the pool of somebody, Alex Kahl wanted to dive right in: seeking to have meaningful and provoking conversations as interviews, he decided to start a whole magazine full of them. Focusing on the world of art, Basis Collective became a platform for interviewers to delve deep into the minds of creatives and creatives to express themselves in as much intricacy and awareness as they’d like. Creating powerfully open dialogues and granting access to the parts of people you don’t usually get to read, Alex’s curiosity grew into a fully fledged project. Having produced the first physical issue of Basis, founder and curator Alex Kahl and his deputy editor Becca Alderson caught up with us about where this all started and where it’s all going to go…
What made you decide to start Basis?
Alex: Well for years people had been telling me to just find what you love and try and make a career out of it, and my passion has always been people and the stories they have to tell. My mum is a counsellor and I think I’ve inherited this obsession with people and the way their minds work. Because of that, the interviews have been the first place I turn to when I pick up a magazine. I’d be happy interviewing anyone who has something to say, but artists seemed like a good group to focus on since their work is so exploratory or self-reflective. They’re more ready than most to talk about their perspective and their life, using their work as a medium. In terms of a gap in the market, most magazines these days involve interviews of some kind, but these are usually surrounded by news pieces, reviews, essays and the rest. I guess Basis is unique because it is entirely made up of conversations with interesting people.
You’re a print and online publication, how do you feel the cyber world is changing the creative industries?
Becca: Although we’re print and online, our main focus was actually creating a complete print product. The internet is an amazing place for creatives and artists alike – it’s the perfect platform to reach out to new audiences, create a following, share ideas and inspiration, especially in the visual era we’re currently in. But, especially recently, the internet has become oversaturated with images and ‘trends’- something I think is actually squashing creativity. You see all of these Instagram pages trying to be ‘creative’, but in reality lack any originality or creativity. Equally, if you’re a smaller artist trying to get a break, you risk a lot by putting your work out there ‘unprotected’. It’s becoming an all too familiar tale of artists being ripped off by large companies who simply want commercial gain. I think there’s much more value in art that is tangible; nothing can replace the interaction you have when you are stood right in front of a piece. This is what we wanted replicate when making Basis. Moving away from online articles that get churned out by anyone, we made something where our audience can turn the pages and hold something real and physically interactive.
What do you think about social media being a place for cultural change?
Becca: Having just criticized the internet for creative industries, I do think that social media is an extremely powerful tool for inciting cultural change; it hands the microphone back to the public. I think people, especially the younger generations, are realising their agency in the current cultural and political climate. With the rise of the ‘influencer’ as a mid level voice of authority, the typical societal hierarchy has been disrupted. We’ve seen some really positive movements arise from social media recently, which do counteract some of the negative (but inevitable) aspects of the internet. Whether a good thing or a bad thing, everyone now has a voice.
Basis focuses on fly-on-the-wall conversations with creatives, how did this idea come about? What did this idea mean for you?
Alex: When Basis first launched online, it wasn’t solely focused on interviews – we had think pieces and articles exploring different topics within art. Somewhere along the way I just decided that interviews are the best way to explore ideas and perspectives. With articles it can sometimes feel like opinions are being forced down your throat a little. Conversations are so organic in comparison – they can be such an open and honest communication of thoughts. In terms of them being ‘fly-on-the-wall’, this just means that they weren’t too manufactured. We’re just trying to make these interviews as natural and un-staged as possible. The more relaxed a subject feels – the more trust there is there – the better the result. We started out by trying to explore a subject’s artwork through these conversations, but gradually we’ve become more focused on getting to know the people, the personalities, behind the work.
Becca: Alex and I both have a passion for contemporary art, but as we’ve said, the idea was really to generate insights and interesting conversation. While the core subject of the all of the interviews is the art form, we realised that articles about what they’ve created wouldn’t do the art any justice anyway. What was more interesting was to use their artwork to illustrate their minds and motivations. The artwork became a visual expression of inspired people who want to create change. Conversation is a medium to tap into this. A nod to John Berger here, but it’s like when you caption a painting, that painting changes from existing as a painting in itself, to being a reference point and illustration for that caption. In the same way, we are looking at art in relation to the artists, and not the other way around – their pieces are a visual aid to their story.
What were the main influences on the creation of Basis?
Alex: I’m hugely influenced by all the great interviewers of the past. People like Lawrence Grobel and John Freeman. Freeman was the host of the BBC’s Face to Face in the early 60s and he would just be so involved in the conversations. One discussion that stands out was with the comedian Tony Hancock, who ended up admitting that he “would not expect happiness”, that he didn’t think it was possible. He got the most incredibly profound admissions out of people. Grobel’s interviews would be more in-depth, an example being when he spent 2 weeks on Marlon Brando’s private island before writing a biography of him. Interviews today often feel like they barely scratch the surface, and those authentic and meaningful conversations are what we want to hark back to with Basis. We’re not there yet, but this issue is the first step in that direction.
You provide a platform for lots of collaborators, what do you look for in a collaborator?
Becca: When we initially spoke about what Basis was going to be, we wanted to move away from the idea that we were a magazine and the artists were their own entity. Instead, we wanted the project to be a collaboration in itself; a level plane of discussion that was open, honest and authentic – hence the name Basis Collective. We wanted everyone that took part in the project to feel like they had joined something and made something collectively. Naturally this attracted like minded groups, like DCRM, who wanted to share this philosophy.
What’s next for Basis?
Alex: We’re going to be focusing on quality rather than quantity. This issue is a pilot, and is intended to gauge whether the interview dynamic could work. Because of this, it includes 18 different artists and is packed with a real range of content. From here on in, our content pieces will be few and far between, but the interviews themselves will be lengthy and in-depth. In addition to these written pieces, we’re hoping to start up a series of documentary-style video interviews, with each instalment shadowing one artist and exploring their life and work. So, watch this space.
3 April 2019