Towards the Possible Film is the title of the recently completed work realised by artist Shezad Dawood. Around this film, and inspired by its title, opens the solo show dedicated to the London-born artist, hosted by Parasol Unit foundation for contemporary art from the 4th of April to the 25th of May.
Alongside the film that inspires it, the exhibition curated by Ziba Ardalan (founder and director of Parasol Unit) includes works from 2009 to present such as sculptures, neon light and painting installations, and another film in black and white from 2010 titled A Mistery Play. Both the location in the reconverted ex-industrial structure in north London and the eclectic nature of the artist’s production make of this event a unique opportunity of encounter with contemporary art.
Dawood’s work which certainly received (and deserves) attention from both critics and the public addresses a range of questions of particular interest in the contemporary art discourse in a very original manner. His practice moves confidently across different media and visual cultures addressing questions of historical origin and identity of groups of people, similarities between different religions, historical times and cultural backgrounds and their representation in Western and non-Western visual culture. Through photography, film, painting and installation art Dawood often relies on collaborations to realise his unusual and unique art pieces. Regardless the choice of the medium for the art works, the artist moves effortlessly between the categories of allegory and representation, re-enactment and fiction, real and surreal, past and future.
The exhibition showcases neon-light installations such as Equinox (2012), Elliptical Variations II (2014) and The Black Sun (2009), a couple of sculptures (Why Depend on Space and Time, 2014 and Cities of the Interior, 2013), paintings (Men-an-Tol, 2013 and suspended paintings installation Through Pierced Flesh and Skin of Dreams, 2014) one sound installation (Passages, 2014) and the two films already mentioned. In each of these works and choices of media Shezad Dawood successfully manages to transgress the boundaries of both traditional craft production and contemporary art language. In the paintings, mainly realized with acrylic on vintage textile, we see the merging of popular non-western techniques and Western modern art inheritance; the pieces evoke both Alberto Burri’s “sacchi” and Indian or Middle Eastern textile patterns. At the same time the artist plays with the definition of art medium, transforming landscape photography and film language into painting and textile design as we can see in Men-an-Tol. Transposing photography and film language in painting is a common ground in contemporary art, nevertheless the artist possesses a unique capacity for provoking in the viewer a sense of both familiarity and strangeness in such adapted translations.
Film seems to be the medium that more accomplishes Dawood’s visionary narratives. Towards the Possible Film is a 20-minutes HD video commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and Delfina Foundation with several partnerships. The film, along the line of previous experiments and productions of the artist such as Feature (2008), combines and merges different visual languages and historical references and addresses subject matters such as postcolonial narratives and questions of identity. The film plot, which narrates the encounter of an alien couple with the natives of a land that resembles a lunar landscape, is loaded of historical references and presents the inverted dichotomy between colonised and coloniser with the overlapping of civilisations in time and space. By mixing film genres like western and science fiction, rather than just enacting a discourse around the dichotomy of real/fiction or self/other, the artist totally mystifies and blends these categories to manufacture a third product. Even using a codified range of visual signs, these familiar elements are manipulated to produce diverse and unknown stories.
The other film showcased, the black and white 15-minutes video A Mistery Play, produces similar effects in the viewers. Shot in a Masonic building in Winnipeg, Canada, the film lingers around the theme of metamorphosis and self-transformation; with an exquisite homage to the surrealist photographic language and inspired by the town’s tradition of performance and Burlesque it represents the mise-en-scène of eccentric rituals that mix religious, mystical and magic allusions.
More than a purely postmodern displacement of signs and language from meaning, Dawood’s work rediscovers the use of known words and their rearrangement and combination across different languages and translations; he uncovers similarities and kinship between cultures to create original work and to push the boundaries of our minds over the stereotypes and labels of common knowledge.
What is the most striking aspect of the artist’s work and contribution to fine arts and film?