Published  30/04/2012

Shezad Dawood. Piercing Brightness

Shezad Dawood. Piercing Brightness

Modern Art Oxford
5 April–10 June 2012


In his feature length film, Piercing Brightness, Shezad Dawood uses the genre of science fiction to contest fixed notions of race, migration and identity. In an interweaving narrative, the film follows Jiang and Shin, a young Chinese boy and girl, on a mission to retrieve the “Glorious 100” - agents who were sent to this planet millennia ago to study and observe. Over time, these 100 have passed through countless lives and many have become corrupted, forgetting their original purpose, slowly becoming influenced by and, in turn, influencing their adopted home. The plot interweaves elements of documentary within a character-driven narrative involving the different and changing communities of Preston in the North of England.

In his essay “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” (1967) Michel Foucault explores the way spaces exert control. Within this essay Foucault considers the difference between utopia – arrangements that have no real space – and what he terms “heterotopia” – effectively realised utopias within society, which are also necessarily outside it.   Between utopia and heterotopia, Foucault argues there is a space like a mirror.  On the mirror space he writes:

It is, after all, a utopia, in that it is a place without a place.  In it, I see myself where I am not, in an unreal space that opens up potentially beyond its surface; there I am down there where I am not, a sort of shadow that makes my appearance visible to myself, allowing me to look at myself where I do not exist: utopia of the mirror. At the same time, we are dealing with a heterotopia. The mirror really exists and has a kind of come-back effect on the place that I occupy: starting from it, in fact. I find myself absent from the place where I am, in that I see myself in there.

This description of the mirror space is an equally appropriate description of the phenomenon of film, or more specifically the experience of watching film and your relationship of your own physical environment to the space, the cinematic world, you see projected in the film.

Yet even more intriguingly, Foucault’s idea of the mirror, of an “unreal space that opens up potentially beyond its surface” can be extended to meditate on the more nebulous notions of connections between trains of thought and even their realisation in physical form. It is an idea of infinite possibility which can then feedback on itself, allowing a more multifarious understanding of the problematic term “influence”, which can both clearly root itself to a physical place or thing and move beyond this fixed barrier ad infinitum.

In Dawood’s current solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, the feature-length film Piercing Brightness is transformed into a 15-minute experimental “trailer”, titled appropriately Trailer (2011), which is screened in a purpose built installation space in the gallery. While a “final” cut of Piercing Brightness is forthcoming, an earlier alternative experimental cut was shown last year with a live soundtrack by Acid Mothers Temple at the AND festival in Liverpool. Foucault’s meditation on the mirror, extends eloquently to these three “editions” of the film and their three different spaces of viewing. They all reflect and feedback on each other, yet the central concept – the plot – remains constant, even through its distortions.

Modern Art Oxford’s exhibition also includes Dawood’s Super 16 mm film, New Dream Machine Project (2011), which documents the launch of the New Dream Machine at an interactive music concert at the Cinémathèque in Tangiers in 2011 with the experimental guitarist Duke Garwood and the Master Musicians of Joujouka. The Dream Machine Project is a multi-disciplinary project based on Brion Gysion’s original concept of the “Dream Machine” – a kinetic-light sculpture believed to elicit a meditative “alpha state” similar to lucid dreaming. Taking a new monumental Dream Machine as the central focus, the project explores ideas of cultural appropriation and restaging through interactive concerts, exhibitions and documentary film.  While directly re-appropriating Gysion’s Dream Machine, the project also echoes the wider international context of Gysion’s own practice, and in particular, the time he spent in Tangier. 

Exploration of appropriation and restaging weaves itself back to Foucault’s mirror most clearly through ideas of reflections or a doubling. The Dream Machine Project as a whole is cyclical, winding back to Gysion through his ideas, physical works and the actual spaces and places he inhabited. Yet this is not pure homage, time is as important here not only with reference to history and possible future permutations of the Dream Machine Project, but also through the way the Project embraces shifting states of temporality; from the live event, which is in many ways static; to a film, which can be re-visited; and finally to the Dream Machine sculpture itself, a supposedly unchanging object which has been re-created.

These films are only two facets of Dawood’s current show, which encompasses film, painting and light sculpture. In their own way, each of these works draw upon the artist’s interest in discursive networks across parallel time frames, location and communities. The importance of discursive networks extends into the installation of the exhibition itself; all of works are shown individually but they each draw from one another. Bracketed by two film works, Trailer and New Dream Machine Project, the show also includes textile-based paintings and neon sculpture. While these works sometimes act as research tools and storyboards for Dawood’s film works, they are also a parallel investigation into form, context and meaning. The mirror thus extends from the microcosms of Piercing Brightness and New Dream Machine Project into the exhibition itself and further through the artist’s own practice.

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