Photo: Mark Blower
Photo: Mark Blower
Steel cage, custom heritage plaque
Photo: Mark Blower
Custom heritage plaque
Photo: Stuart Whipps
Ensorcelled English: Prestige Repellent, 2020
Goldsmiths CCA, London, England
Ensorcelled English: Prestige Repellent is a new project by Hardeep Pandhal presented across two galleries as part of Goldsmith CCA’s Solos programme.
Pandhal’s newly commissioned video work, entitled Ensorcelled English, reveals the mechanics of a cursed art school, where inherited issues of racial and sexual representation emerge. Reflecting the artist’s wider interest in practices of interpretation in Western education, these issues are carried over into the installation in the courtyard outside, where a suspended steel cage is marked by a custom heritage plaque.
Based partly on Pandhal’s experience as both an art student and visiting art lecturer in the UK, this work considers the structures upon which contemporary art schools are upheld, whilst contrasting both the emancipatory and stultifying effects of their workings.
Written by Pandhal during lockdown, the two-part video Ensorcelled English, which is believed to be archived in the ‘Unplugged’ section of this website, features voice acting from his peers and close friends, rehearsed over webcam and recorded remotely. The first part, visualised as an animated storyboard drawn and arranged by Pandhal, revolves around delicate exchanges between an art student and an art lecturer. References are made to Richard Dyer’s book White (1997), with particular emphasis on Dyer’s reading of white femininity in the TV series The Jewel in the Crown (1984). The second part recalls an instructional lyric video comprising rap vocals delivered by Pandhal to a horrorcore beat composed with Glasgow based musician Joe Howe, alongside animations made in response by Nottingham-based graphic artist Stefan Sadler.
The work in the courtyard space invokes the cursed game-world of Dark Souls (2011), a Japanese video game directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki that is often credited for the popularisation of the gaming genre known as ‘masocore’ (games characterised by ‘tough but fair’ mechanics that necessitate the player die an inordinate amount in order to learn how to overcome in-game obstacles). Controlling a customisable avatar in a fantasy world abounding with distinct Gothic atmosphere – a unique, transcultural evolution of the European generic inheritance of J.R.R.Tolkien – the player starts their Dark Souls quest in an ‘undead’ state of being. The game revolves predominantly around the player’s tireless search for humanity (the state of being ‘human’), whilst being pitted against an extensive array of perversely inventive traps, over-skilled adversaries and misleading signs placed in visually confounding yet intricately connected spaces.
The custom heritage plaque which marks the steel cage includes an image of the official flag of the Black Country in the West Midlands, where Pandhal grew up. The design grew out of a competition amongst local schools before being adopted in 2017. Chains were included in the design as an attempt to cultivate a sense of pride in the industrial heritage of the region. However, a local politician argued that the design had racist connotations and the potential to cause offence as the Black Country was a key provider of metal worked goods, including chains, to the slave trade and British Empire. The flag’s colour scheme was inspired by a well-known poetic description of the area made by an American diplomat in 1862, “black by day and red by night”, which refers to the smog in the air caused by industrial production.
Keeping in mind the gallery’s proximity to Goldmiths’ art department, Pandhal makes analogies between the perilous fantasy space of Dark Souls and the reality of contemporary free-market academies, drawing attention to both the zombifying and liberating affects they have on their players and users (once their respective abysses have been arduously traversed and ascended).
Taken together, this body of work testifies to Pandhal’s ongoing interest in Schoolhouse Gothic, a sub-genre of literature and criticism in which Gothic themes and metaphors are deployed in fictional schools and universities. This project is dedicated to transforming feelings of disinheritance and disaffection into generative spaces that bolster interdependence and self-belief.