Studio International

Published 21/09/2021

Adam Farah: What I’ve Learned from You and Myself (Peak Momentations/Inside My Velvet Rope Mix)

Farah creates a shrine to Mariah Carey in a coming-of-age journey and a sensory world of nostalgia and indulgence

Camden Art Centre, London
10 September – 23 December 2021


In a new exhibition at Camden Art Centre, Adam Farah (also known as free.yard) creates a shrine to Mariah Carey and sensory world of nostalgic reflection and indulgence.

The show is the result of a residency at Metroland Studio in Kilburn, a recent partnership between Metroland Cultures and Camden Art Centre, both in north-west London. Farah’s time there has culminated in this presentation of a coming-of-age journey – a retrospective self-portrait, of sorts, through photographs, objects and smells – and an exploration of the ways in which the changing city of their childhood and adolescence has shaped and set their emotional growth and liberation.


In this work, which takes a playful, tongue-in-cheek approach to conceptual art, Farah (born 1991) seeks to rebel against their experience of art school in the 2010s, which they describe as: “The height of the post-internet art moment; typified by reductive and uncritical forms of irony. A ‘coldness’ which may find its roots in the colonial legacies that permeate much of the western art canon and its ever-present influence on aesthetic and critical practices.” Following an “underlying natural reaction” to this sense of sterility, Farah takes a very personal, intimate, autobiographical route.


Wide-ranging and explorative in their use of media – from video art to found art, from sculpture to autobiography and writing – Farah creates a space that is personal and accessible, through which to reflect on their upbringing and generational influences, from music to technology. Farah says: “Through the use of any medium, be it moving image, sculpture, poppers, peppers, iPods, walking, cruising, micro-dosing, my work may speak to seemingly disparate contexts – from my parents’ relationship to the impact of Mariah Carey on my thinking, to the influence of specific technological devices on my adolescence. Ultimately though, it’s a call-out, for human connection – through vulnerability, reminiscing/reflecting, spiritual criticality – something like that.”

This seeking of connection is evident in the large reproductions of photographs of Carey’s lyrics, handwritten on lined paper, as if pages from a diary, presented alongside selfies using old phones, images of mushrooms and cityscapes, and old trainers. What emerges is a nostalgic collage of objects, memories and triggers; though they are clearly specific to the artist, anyone from the same generation or place can identify to some degree and, in a more general sense, it is interesting to dwell, for a moment, on what it is to be nostalgic, to yearn for a lost time and lost things, or rather to cling on to them beyond their demise.


Elsewhere in the gallery, Farah has created little mobiles on which hang poppers, which look like windchimes, as well as a central water feature that pumps red-coloured water. A soundtrack of Carey songs plays on a loop, and two school locker room-type benches frame the installation. There is also a short video playing on a large screen on a loop. There are old Carey posters taped to the walls, between presentation files of photographs, also attached to the walls, through which visitors can flip. One effect of this mode of presentation is that, because the plastic files are so reflective, we see our own reflection very clearly in every picture of either the artist or their photographs; whether or not this is intentional, it creates a visual dialogue between the viewer and the artist, where Farah’s visual memories and self-portraits are disrupted, or joined, by the image of the visitor. Farah’s memories are, in a sense, intruded on, or perhaps the visitors are invited into them. 


Either way, what emerges from all this is a warm, nostalgic, personal and immersive experience that is also comical and sweet – a window into a past (shared) adolescence, and the bittersweet sense of decay and romance and longing that implies. Using “the exhibition” as a form of autobiography works well here, therefore; it is a simple concept but nevertheless moving and well executed.


As Farah writes, in a letter to the curator that is published in the exhibition notes: “Although I could explain the context/’inspiration’ behind every little element of the show, what it has really been about this whole time is paying homage to the processes of mourning, in all the different contexts in which we experience it in life – love and death and the different selves we journey through – and that mourning is just shedding the skin of life. This show is a reflection on different chapters of that mourning process of my own life and how they are all completely intertwined – so I want the different works to act like portals leading to one another, reflecting the interlacing and nonlinearity of time and place.”


It is this process of mourning, which as Farah states, is so much a part of everyday life, which is fascinating and clearly relevant to us all. While so much art (and writing) is about this very experience, inevitably, Farah manages to find a space for reflection – their own, and for others – which simply and effectively lays out the everyday heartbreak of loss, whether for relationships or old phones, or the simple familiarity of an old shopping centre. Farah captures the plainness and magic of the details and objects of everyday life, details which, in the end, are significant even as they are disposable.