Open Frequency 2009: Shezad Dawood selected by Donna Lynas

Open Frequency 2009: Shezad Dawood selected by Donna Lynas Shezad Dawood, Feature (Krishna Snake still), 2008. Film and video. Image courtesy of the artist

Donna Lynas selects the work of Shezad Dawood for Open Frequency

Artists have been working in participatory ways for decades, going beyond the intimate experience of an individual viewer meeting a work of art for the first time and being moved in an extraordinary way. Artists have always wanted to affect their audiences and have used their work as vehicles to communicate a message or idea directly to them. But many artists have pushed the notion of participation further, to the point that 'participatory ways of working' is now becoming part of mainstream gallery programming. Black, white and shades of grey interpretations of that phrase can mean anything from artists as mediators, tutors, facilitators, to even workshop leaders and therapists.

In my view, an artist who works in a participatory way is none of those things and never should be. That person is first and foremost an artist seeking to make artwork, and who in making that work wishes to engage the audience as participants in an active way. That way may not always be absolutely meaningful at the time for every single person taking part, but it can be an extraordinary experience in the true sense of taking oneself outside the ordinariness of every day life and, even better, a genuinely enjoyable experience.

One such artist is London-based Shezad Dawood, a visual artist who works in many media. In 2005 Dawood began discussions with me that would lead to the creation of a full length feature film, entitled 'Feature', at Wysing Arts Centre two years later. The film – an alternative zombie western - featured residents from neighbouring villages, 300 of whom turned up over one weekend to try out for parts or simply watch the spectacle of the Wild West coming to the East of England. To create the work Dawood spent six months in residence at Wysing Arts Centre.

Shezad Dawood is not an artist who deliberately set out to engage a community and support people to explore their creativity, or arguably far worse from an artistic position, support the development of a more cohesive community. Terms like this are attached to this way of working by funders, arts development officers, politicians, and even arts organisations like Wysing. What Dawood set out to do was make art work in the same way that any professional artist whose livelihood depends on it would do. Dawood happened to deliver at least the first two of those things, absolutely capturing the imaginations of the people who live in the neighborhood of Wysing and supporting them to bring their creativity to his work. This could never have happened if Dawood had not been a humble, generous, open and empathetic human being who was willing to allow others to not only take part in his work but also to shape it – much of the action in 'Feature' (2008) is improvised by the participants. Every single person who took part in 'Feature' is credited both in the film and in a book of the film that was subsequently published by Book Works.

One of the most artistically fulfilling moments I have experienced was when Dawood came back to Wysing to screen the finished film to those people who took such an active role in its creation- Pete (the jockey from Newmarket Racecourse), the owners of Daisy the Donkey, Julian the fetish cowboy, The Outlaws (an amateur western re-enactment enthusiasts from nearby Fen-town Ely), The Cambridge Chinese Community Football Team, and dozens more. All squashed in a room together with Dawood simply switching on the film without introduction, preparation or explanation, the packed room hooting with laughter and an overwhelming sense of communal pride in something very special that had been created, together.

Donna Lynas, December 2009

Artist's biography

Shezad Dawood (b.1974, London) is an internationally acclaimed artist with work currently showing in solo and group shows across the globe (Altermodern: Tate Triennial 2009, Tate Britain, London, until 26 April; Re-Imagining Asia, The New Art Gallery, Walsall, until 4 May; Montana,Galerie Gabriel Holt, Amsterdam, until 16 May). His previous solo exhibitions in 2008 include: Feature: Architecture, Eastside Projects (Birmingham); Journey to the End of the Night, Riccardo Crespi Gallery (Milan); Until the End of the World, Third Line (Dubai), and in 2007: If I Should Fall From Grace With God, Paradise Row (London); The End of Civilisation, Axel Lapp Projects (Berlin). Alongside this he has taken part in group exhibitions such as: Indian Highway, Serpentine Gallery (London, 2008); ReAsia, HKW (Berlin, 2008); Hobbyhorse, Arndt & Partner (Zurich, 2007); Toffee Armistice, Lemon Sky, (Miami, USA, 2007); Bubble & Squeak, PM Gallery (Toronto, Canada, 2006); East Wing Collection, Courtauld Institute (London, 2007); Lila/Play, Span Gallery (Melbourne, 2006); Very Funny: Humour in Video Art, Gallery Chemould, (Mumbai, 2006). Dawood completed both his MA and MPhil in Fine Art (Photography) at the Royal College of Art. His work has been collected by the Contemporary Art Society, Channel 4 Television and the Saatchi Gallery. At present the artist lives and works in London.

About Donna Lynas

Donna Lynas has been Director of Wysing Arts Centre - a centre for the visual arts set on the 11 acre site of a former farm 9 miles south west of Cambridge - since April 2005. She has been instrumental in delivering Wysing's £1.7 million capital development project, due to open in January 2008. The project will transform the Centre and provide state-of-the-art artists' studios and 'new media' and educational facilities. Additionally, she has developed new ways for Wysing to work with its 24 studio artists, all of whom now receive professional development support during their five year tenure at the Centre. Alongside supporting studio artists Wysing runs an International Residency Programme and also a Public Programme in which the Centre works predominantly with artists' collectives on different approaches to participation and knowledge exchange.

Previously Donna was Curator at the South London Gallery for six years where she curated a large number of exhibitions and projects. Among others, she worked with artists AK Dolven, Christian Boltanski, Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Henrik Plenge Jacobsen and Keith Tyson on their solo exhibitions at the gallery. She also curated the group exhibitions Perfectly Placed (with Goshka Macuga, Cornford and Cross, Paula Roush, Adam Chodzko and Janette Parris) and Independence (a show to commemorate the gallery's new independent status which included over 100 artists). In 1999 she established the gallery's influential SLG Live Art programme which at its most ambitious presented a durational performance of One Million Years by Japanese artist On Kawara - involving a series of 16 people performing a live work in a glass box in Trafalgar Square continuously for 7 days and nights.

From 1995 – 1999 Donna was Touring Exhibitions Organiser and then Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford. Prior to that she studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee and then had her own studio based practice for five years, in Dundee and Reading.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of significant emergent and mid-career artists.