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Piercing Brightness: Shezad Dawood. Modern Art Oxford
It’s night time. It’s rainy. A gang of hooded youths race on bikes round their concrete jungle, run and leap over ledges, menacingly circle a pair of white-robed people walking mesmerically past. Lumps of rock glow on the pavement. Lumps of sugar are stacked by a Chinese man at a café table. Townspeople amble magnetically towards an empty park bandstand. A searchlight, a spaceship lands somewhere out of the pitch black night. A flock of pigeons — spooked? — fly over the town’s gloomy skyline. Something odd is going on. But what? And where?
I am watching Trailer from a futuristic all-white viewing circle in Modern Art Oxford. Trailer (2011) is a 15-minute edit from British artist and filmmaker Shezad Dawood’s feature-length, as yet unreleased film Piercing Brightness, and is part of his major solo exhibition of the same name, comprising film, textile painting, and light sculpture.
Filmed in Preston, it has as its premise that aliens landed in the city millennia ago, and lived through countless lives, unable either to return or assimilate fully into their adopted world. (Apparently, Lancashire is the UK hotspot for UFO sightings.) Now, sci-fi has never been my thing. So, I approached MAO’s new exhibition a little unsure of my ground. But Dawood is a fan. And his sci-fi movie was a multilayered mix of reality and fiction that, as with his work generally, draws upon his interest in questions of race, migration, belief, the passage of time, and the creation of identity.
Leaving the booming soundtrack behind, I entered an oasis of calm in the middle gallery where the walls were lined with entrancing textile pieces: paintings in acrylic on vintage Saami textiles from Pakistan.
There was a beautiful synchronicity here. Textile artworks with multiple resonances that drew you into their depths, dissolving boundaries between antique and modern, between geometry and asymmetry, patched and perfect, placed between the reality challenging sci-fi Trailer and the reality challenging, trance-inducing New Dream Machine Project with its zoetrope of flickering colours and hypnotic Moroccan music.
Great music, clever filmmaking, meditations on light, time, and being: I’ll be back for more before this show closes. Piercing Brightness is at Modern Art Oxford until June 10. Free entry.
The first major monograph of Shezad Dawood’s work, published by Modern Art Oxford/Koenig Books, London, is on sale at MAO.