I was never one to believe in the supernatural. In a way, that hasn’t changed. Regardless of which, yesterday, I saw a ghost. An odd way to start an article covering an artist’s interview (if this constitutes as one), but believe me, hand on my heart, by the end of it all, everything will make sense.
You all know of the elusive “Basil.” I need not say here the vastness of their past body of work, nor the richness and depth of every single piece he had wrought upon this broken world, all of which serving as broken mirrors to our existence. I’ve written everything there is to be said about them before, including their eventual reception of patronage from Sign Tempore, their shift to digital art,and how it has affected their works, marking a period of monotony, repetitiveness and self-derivativity. It pained me to see yet another artist fall victim to corporatization, and be shackled by the uniform standards of out of touch executives. It ruins art, robs it of flavor, erases the soul.
But recently, something changed.
Their latest piece uploaded on first glance is simply a shattered image composed of numerous shades of black, with “WHO AM I?” etched into its surface in colorless ink, in their signature handwriting echoing that of their text-based works in years past. It imposes, dares us to ask. But to whom it is directed? Us, or Basil? The next sequence of artworks follow a similar existential theme, in many different forms but all incorporate photography altered with advanced editing techniques, giving it a dreamlike quality. Viewing the different photographs, of views inside a childhood home, of strewn about toys, restaurants, blurry visages of people he might’ve known, it feels like he’s depicting the process of remembering, how vague and colored our lenses are when viewing past events.
At least, that’s what it looked like on first glance.
An astute reader of this blog had emailed me a zoomed in picture of one image in microscopic detail. Embedded within each pixel, a phrase can be read.
“Is this me?”
That question, in chained repetition, populates the surface under each altered photograph. From corner to corner, edge to edge, it repeats. Ad nauseam. Ad infinitum. That moment, when I first examined that email, a deep uncomfortable feeling rose up in my stomach. I could feel every single strand of hair raise to standing on my neck. It became clear who that “who am I” they asked on that fateful day is for. They have denied every single interview request in the past, but this had to change. As Basil’s #1 essayist, who has followed their career since their inception, I had to know. Thus, as you all readers may already know, I posted a public invitation for Basilto “come and have coffee with me.”
Wouldn’t you know it, within minutes of posting, the burner phone I listed on the invitation rang.
“My agent will meet you at a Starbucks on the address and time listed on the upcoming text. But first, are you sure you want this interview?” The voice on the phone asked. Something didn’t sound right. Something about the way they spoke.
“Yes.” I answered.
“You may not comprehend, let alone like what you see.” The voice added.
“That’s what I’m counting on.” I replied.
“Understood. I shall send you the details.”
After that, the call ended and I received a text with the details of the meeting. It was afternoon, around 4:30 PM, and the text’s appointed time of meeting was 6:00 PM. When I arrived at the starbucks, I was greeted with a well-dressed man wearing a black suit, and thin rimmed glasses. He was not Basil, as according to him, Basil’s current condition barred them from travel outside of their studio. However, he could take me to them once and I quote “you are ready.”
Nothing prepared me for what came next.
After a very comfortable ride in a black luxury sedan, I was taken to what seemed an ordinary apartment building. Guided by the man in black, I approached a seemingly ordinary apartment door.
“Basil is waiting for you inside.”
A knock on the door prompted the latch to open. I expected a hand on the other side, but nothing was there. The room inside was dim. Dusty art supplies; canvasses, paintbrushes, and the like lay in front of paint-stained walls. Bookshelves full of knowledge deprived of touch hid alongside the abandoned artisan tools, meeting the same fate. Cameras from different corners of the room look on, focusing and unfocusing towards me and the room itself. A distinct whirring belonging to a computer’s disk drives permeated the room, a sound which I followed till I stood in front of its source. Four towering monoliths clad in black stands, broadcasting a high-pitched low-volume hum, and in the middle, a small screen, with a keyboard, mouse, and on the side, a drawing tablet that gathered dust just like its more analog counterpart.
No heartbeat other than my own was present that day. Instead, a presence beyond my own comprehension greeted me.
A projector’s lens above the screen I stood in front of lit up.
Then, a ghost emerged from it, staring at me from the other side.
“Hello.” The digital specter greeted me, as what looks to be an approximation of what Basil looked like. Just… a person. Or an approximation of one. A dreadful awe took over me, and I pulled out my notepad.
With that as the cue, the interview began.
“Are you Basil?” I asked my first question. A voice from the electronic aether answered. The very same one on the phone.
“If you are referring to the once ‘living’ breathing person legally named Basil Hallworth, they’re dead. If you are referring to the artist named Basil…” The specter trailed off in the end, and began scrambling like TV static, and the whirring started getting louder.
“Hello?” I asked my second question.
The whirring got louder.
“Are you there?” I asked my third question.
The whirring got louder.
“Basil, are you there?” I asked my fourth.
The whirring got even louder.
“Basil?” I asked my fifth.
Then, a scream pierced the thick fog of white noise emanating from the towers of drives, and the projected specter disappeared, with disjointed light fragments taking its place. A voice, sharp, coarse, like broken glass attempted to vocalize, to answer. The screen under the projector turned on, flashing different images, the very same images that evoked past memories in the artworks I’ve examined.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Are you alright?”
“I DON’T KNOW.”
I smelled something burning, and before I knew it, the whirring stopped and the screen shut down. Everything shut down. I was ushered out not long after by men in black suits, and was driven home. If you are reading this right now, you must have a lot of questions. I know I do. I can theorize all I want but truth be told, I don’t think I will ever come close to knowing what happened to Basil Hallworth. However, I can be sure of one thing.
This is the last article I will ever finish.
Hira Pendleton is a writer with an affinity for personal stories set in fantastical worlds. They enjoy indie games and post-emo music. They can be found at instagram: @hira.pen.