Building on his work with communities, Shezad Dawood explores common themes and challenges of our time.
British artist Shezad Dawood encourages the public to join in the conversation by making the first episode of Leviathan available to read online.
To coincide with the 57th Venice Biennale, London-based artist Shezad Dawood launches his new body of work from 7 May to 24 September 2017. The work Leviathan is a ten-part film cycle that will unfold over the next three years across a number of international venues, concluding in a presentation of all ten episodes in 2020.
Dawood, based mainly in London, works across film, painting and sculpture. His creative practice uses the interplay between image, language, site and narratives. He often works in collaborations with communities and individuals across the world to, as he reflects, “physically and conceptually map far-reaching lines of enquiry”.
His locations, both literal and stylistic, have included transposing the traditional western to the English countryside, combining a zombie movie genre with a Wagnerian opera or viewing anthropological concepts through the lens of science fiction.
Leviathan is set in a future where inhabitants are the survivors of a catastrophic solar event. The episodes are each told from the point of view of different characters who wander across Europe, Asia and North Africa. The film was shot in a number of locations including the Adriatic Sea, the Natural History Museum in London and an abandoned island in the Venetian lagoon.
ArtAsiaPacific describes the films as part of their review of the Venice Biennale:
The first follows a character named Ben, and is, crudely put, a psychotic-seeming interior monologue paired with aquatic images of divers. The second part narrates the survival experience of a woman named Yasmine, whose defining personality trait is that she enjoys urinating in her jeans. She meets another survivor, a male, and views him as sexual prey; together, they visit a floating research platform where yet another survivor has taken refuge and has descended into madness.
Dawood drew upon a number of fields in the research of this project, consulting biologists, oceanographers, political scientists, neurologists and trauma specialists in order to build a picture of where the world and its inhabitants would be if we were unable to find a solution to the environmental degradation caused by climate change. The work looks not only at the impact on humans, but also on the planet’s biosphere.
Dawood explains that the “Leviathan cycle is really an evolution of past projects and ideas.” Whereas his previous projects focused on specific communities, such as communities in New York State affected by Hurricane Sandy or an Indian Himalayan town, this project extends the scope to consider the fault lines and themes that reach across communities, such as marine conservation, migration and mental health. In an interview he goes on to explain why it is important to focus on the bigger picture:
I feel that our political and academic structures often prioritise separate disciplines to the detriment of the ecosystem as a whole, and what a more joined-up way of thinking can provide by way of interconnected solutions. So this was one of the driving forces behind the project. In a sense the more research I did into these areas, the more I was revealed about their interconnections. For example it is the effects of climate change on the warming of the seas that cause the dangerous currents for those attempting the Lampedusa crossing. And missing people, often without identification papers, cause an unresolved trauma for the relatives waiting for them in European host countries as well as for families in their countries of origin.
The first two episodes are presented alongside an installation of textural and sculptural works at the Palazzina Canonica in Venice, a building that has been closed to the public since the 1970s and which was previously the headquarters of the Institute of Marine Sciences. This installation partly developed out of collaborations with the Labanof in Milan, an institution that helps families identify missing relatives by researching personal items lost at sea by migrants crossing to Lampedusa. There is also an installation of a large-scale outdoor neon work entitled Island Pattern at the Fortuny Factory.
The first episode of Leviathan is already available to read online, with more episodes to follow, including Episode Three in September 2017 in conjunction with the exhibition. In addition, during the exhibition there will be a public programme of agora-like debates that will be recorded online. The space is for scientists, researchers, students and the general public to exchange on ideas and challenges that the project raises.
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- “Things Lost/Remembering the Future”: South Asian artists at Ganges Art Gallery – April 2017 – inaugural exhibition at Ganges Art Gallery in Kolkata seeks to spark dialogue through region’s contemporary art practices
- “A Tale of Two Cities”: Indian & Sri Lankan artists at Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts – March 2017 – region’s top contemporary artists hold “dynamic dialogue” with region’s top two religious centres
- Indian Art Fair 2017: a gathering place for South Asian art – round-up – February 2017 – attraction of new and young collectors adds excitement to fair’s ninth edition
- Alien encounters at Art Basel Hong Kong 2013: conceptual artist Shezad Dawood – interview – May 2013 – conceptual artist Shezad Dawood talks ancient astronomy, archetypes and aliens ahead of Art Basel Hong Kong 2013
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