Text by Matthew Merrick
Shezad Dawood’s Towards the Possible Film at Leeds Art Gallery is a slimmed-down version of an exhibition previously shown at Parasol Unit, London in May 2014. It explores Dawood’s fascination with mysticism and his investigations around his heritage, life experience, and communication between different cultures and people in the past and the future. These are well explored, considered and presented. However, a question hung over the curatorial convention of presenting works from municipal collections alongside contemporary works. There seemed to be a lack of clear intention behind the juxtapositioning that made this exhibition appear in part like two exhibitions superimposed upon one another.
Haroon Mirza and Leo Fitzmaurice won Northern Art Prizes (2010 and 2011) whilst appropriating works from the collection. However, Mirza and Fitzmaurice’s works benefitted from a freshness that perhaps isn’t demonstrated in this show due to the repeated stunt. The choices of Alexander Calder’s Chicago Black (1948) and Liliane Lijn’s Atom Body Was Light (1964) are excellent but they shift focus away from Dawood’s brave and interesting works and instead force an examination of the static state of a room housing works that were originally intended to move. To describe a show including Alexander Calder as static feels awkward but perhaps that is the contradiction that was intended here.
Or perhaps the chosen works were an attempt to pacify an often critical public who might not warm to Dawood’s work?
The positives of this exhibition are many, and whilst the exploitation of the Leeds collection frustrates it cannot undo the brilliance of the work Towards the Possible Film (2014) from which the show takes its name. Shot in Morocco, the film has a limited soundtrack, extended sumptuous visual sequences and a narrative pace that forces viewers into spending extended time immersing themselves into its narrative. It is not easy to watch, it is firmly an artist film but as a viewer that makes the exhibition exciting and interesting, for it challenges the visitor to explore its themes without merely presenting them with answers. The film shows space-suit clad blue figures emerging from the ocean with the suggestion that they are perhaps alien invaders. The land-based figures respond to these outsiders through aggressive posturing, combative gestures and fearful movements that maybe show Dawood’s observation of a still-present xenophobia in human behaviour that many may choose to ignore or deny. The lack of a common language between ‘others’ perhaps shows the perils of diminished communication and misread signals.
When recalling this exhibition in a decade the hope is that nostalgia replaces frustration because Towards the Possible Film is an enjoyable and fascinating show that considers the complexities of existence and human society. Shezad Dawood has presented ambitious and exciting works here but the misuse of collection works and the blurring of meaning that this has created is difficult not to mourn.
Matthew Merrick is an Artist and Lecturer based in Leeds.