Modern Art Oxford
United Kingdom

Piercing Brightness at Modern Art Oxford (MAO) takes its title from the new feature length film from Shezad Dawood. An alternatively edited fifteen minute version of this, Trailer occupies the main gallery space. The exhibition is split into three distinct sections – an installation of the film Trailer, a small group of paintings and a kinetic light sculpture incorporating 16mm film, New Dream Machine Project (2011)

Trailer is installed on a high screen with a white seating area in front. You cover your shoes before you can enter and the seats are curved and deep, they suck you down into them. This seating gave the gallery the feel of a lounge or swanky club, it reminded me a little of Sketch in London, but seemed a little ill thought-out somehow. The circular shape of the seating meant that you faced inwards and into the void space in the middle rather than naturally at the screen. I felt as if Dawood (or MAO) could have done some further experimentation in terms of the display of the screen. It might have been interesting to think about this central space in the middle of the intended seating during the processes of filming or editing. Possibilities could have been breaking up the narratives onto separate and multiple screens like the recent Hayward presentation of Isaac Julian’s Ten Thousand Waves or a Fiona Tan installation for a work like Thin Cities (1999). It could be that the failure to be grabbed by the trajectory of the films narrative led me to wonder about its display. Preston features prominently as the location for the story of a group of 100 ‘people’ sent by another planet to observe the formation of a new world or civilisation. This place seems to be entirely populated by hoodie youths on BMX’s that circle the aliens (or maybe the hoodies are the aliens?). Two of the none-hoodie aliens act as the main protagonists and they take the form of a good humoured Muslim taxi-driver and a silent vaguely horror Ring-style woman who spends a lot of time holding glowing white stones. Every now and then a god-like female with lots of buttons stuck on her face appears to narrate the story. It all seems a bit daft and studenty, not calling into question (for me at least) as MAO’s website states ‘our attempts to reconcile the passing of time and creation of identity in our own lives.’

Passing through the two gallery textile-painting section, which seemed a little superfluous, the third section of the exhibition – kinetic sculpture New Dream Machine Project (2011) is by far the most interesting and successful work in the exhibition. In 2011 Dawood staged a re-creation and concert in Tangiers around the idea of the Dream Machine invented by Brion Gysin. Using ideas of Sufi philosophy and hallucinatory stimuli, the stroboscopic flickering techniques are supposed to induce an altered state of consciousness in the viewer. The film is a recording and collage of that event which included music by The Master Musicians of Jajouka (the band that played at the famous coffee shop in Tangiers ‘1001 Nights’ which Gysin frequented). White bean bags are laid out in the darkened gallery facing towards the wall sized screen. The 16mm film hops between images and audio of the band and the Dream Machine device itself. I was glued to the reeling effects this produced. The sparse seating also means the viewer is quite alone in his experience; I lost all my sense of gravity in the gallery context and melted into the spinning rainbow colours. This installation felt far more authentically experimental in terms of its science-fiction than the previous film Trailer.

The exhibition is a funny one. I found Trailer disappointing. I’m not sure what is happening with the larger feature film, Piercing Brightness, or where it will ultimately be exhibited but perhaps that would be worth a further consideration and that the failure, here, is in the selection for the edit. I found the use of Preston’s city centre with its faceless BMXers, the floating pseudo spiritual aliens and the space ships a bit naff and clichéd. The textile paintings I can take or leave but I would happily return to Modern Art Oxford for another hit of The New Dream Machine Project. Overall therefore, the exhibition is both inconsistent and interesting.

A version of Piercing Brightness was shown at The Harris Gallery in Preston in late 2011; it will tour to venues in the UK such as the Exchange Gallery in Penzance in 2012 before touring internationally to KINKINO Centre for Art & Film, Norway.