Review: Shezad Dawood at Bluecoat

Shezad Dawood, Leviathan (2019), Installation View, Bluecoat, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Rob Battersby.

Shezad Dawood – Leviathan
06 July – 13 October 2019

Words, Leyla Gurr
Images, Rob Battersby

I had only seen stills of Shezad Dawood’s film series ‘Leviathan’ before visiting The Bluecoat this week, but what I had seen and read intrigued me. My personal tastes tend more towards traditional art, being somewhat of an old and curmudgeonly soul trapped in a 30 year old’s body I am unlikely even to have an Andy Warhol print in my living room. But if art is about anything it is about trying new things, so I put my notepad in my bag and headed into town.

The critically acclaimed film series that had the Venice Biennale in a buzz when it premiered there is the main attraction, and something that would be hard to pin down on paper without ruining the effect for a first time viewer. I can say that the film plays on a loop in a darkened room from beginning to credit reel and back again, and that in the end I stayed for two fascinating viewings. With a strong eldritch overtone and intriguing narrative style, it took a few goes around to take it all in. The themes that I took from it; apocalypse, apathy, climate crisis and the madness of man, resonate strongly with the world that we live in today and the inspiration that Dawood is referencing is apparent from the beginning. By itself the visuals are disjointed and in places disturbing, there are viewer discretion advised stickers on the walls all around the entrance, but coupled with a narration that I can only describe as verging on the side of maniacal they take on a whole new meaning.

In the beginning the ramblings of a distressed man eventually begin to drop tantalising hints of some form of story. Something subtle and hidden beneath layers of metaphor and memory. Part documentary footage, part purpose shot imagery, this film is as much about the apathy of mankind in the face of overwhelming odds as it is anything else. There is a fascinating apocalypse concept here, the idea that at the end of day’s people decided that it was simply too much effort  to even live anymore. A scenario that seems both parts inevitable and terrifying if you have spent any time watching the news recently.

Shezad Dawood, Leviathan Cycle, Episode 1: Ben, (2017), Bluecoat, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Rob Battersby.

Once the film was over and we left the room, a friend that I had brought with me as someone to bounce ideas off of had a fascinating opinion. As we walked the rest of the supporting rooms and talked the movie over, my comments on climate change and the attitudes of mankind were stopped in their tracks by his one critique, “the film lacks any humility’.

This read on the piece opened a can of worms for me. There is an urgent message in ‘Leviathan’, it aims to touch upon many crisis’ in its short run-time. I can see how the confident and manic narration could be viewed as an artist in full egotistical flow, Dawood has something to say, and he damn well wants you to pay attention. It’s not something that everyone wants to hear and it isn’t delivered in a style that sits comfortably with the public. Now so accustomed to twitter apologies and the cancel culture, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. The issues threatening mankind today are about to become apocalyptic in nature, in times like this looking towards art can help people to hear the already deafening alarm bells.

Words, Leyla Gurr