Review: Dawood and Jakobsdottir at Leeds Art Gallery

As part of the annual Light Night festival in Leeds, two new shows opened yesterday at Leeds Art Gallery. Both of them make great use of film. I have to be honest, outside of the cinema, I haven’t encountered much film and video art and that which I have seen, I’ve struggled to connect with. The works launched yesterday made a strong impact on me and would, I think, be accessible to a wide audience.

Shezad Dawood’s Towards the Possible Film, shot on a distinctly unearthly beach in Morocco, shows an encounter between space suited aliens and a graceful indigenous people trying to protect their lands. Each side is mysterious and ultimately unknowable to the viewer. At times it feels like a classic Science Fiction film, at other times it could be a music video. The overall effect is surreal, unsettling, sexy and dramatic. It feels like seeing a mythic story which can only be partly told. Issues of the alien, in all senses of the term, and conflict are strongly present.

Alongside this is a display of Dawood’s neon sculptures and pieces he has selected from the Gallery’s collection, including works by artists like Alexander Calder,  to create a space which feels both modern and timeless. This is an optimistic environment, a space where different artistic  movements – including the utopian ideals of 1920’s  constructivism  and the playfulness of 1960’s minimal art – meet to create new meanings.  Despite these references, it can all be enjoyed very much on it’s own terms. After watching something resembling a Science Fiction movie in Towards the Possible Film, this is like stepping into one. It was great to see the animated response of kids seeing some of the more outlandish pieces. It reminded me of my own reaction as a child to seeing a recreation of Jacob Epstein’s cyborg-like sculpture Rock Drill.

Epstein’s work features in Eyes Cast, a film by Elin Jakobsdottir and shot partially in Leeds Art Gallery. Two bronze bust by Epstein engage in their own journey, suggesting a relationship that will be lost in time. It’s a haunting and melancholic film that should appeal to fans of the gothic. Accompanying the film is a display of the artist’s abstract pieces. These are colourful and eye catching, though I didn’t find them as engaging as the film.

As the shows were opening on Light Night, there was also the opportunity to enjoy a music installation by Tetra, a Leeds based group of musicians and artists. A system of generative music flooded the upper floor or the gallery, creating a dazzling ambient accompaniment to the collections, reminiscent of the works of both Brian Eno and Aphex Twin. I found it particularly effective in the room containing the Gallery’s display of abstract art, but it also made for a nice contrast with the 19th century French art collection.

Sadly the Tetra installation was a one night event only but the two new shows are on until mid January and worth seeing to enjoy some atmospheric and exciting art.

Damian

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