Posh Studio

Shezad Dawood

UK Pakistan

Having incorporated popular iconography, advertising campaigns and the film industry into his interdisciplinary practice, London-based Shezad Dawood’s first experiment with real estate intervention took place in 2005 with his Paradise Row project. Dawood hired an architect to convert a five-story heritage building in East London into living, studio and exhibition space, collaborated with a curator to display art works in the home and then employed a real estate agent to sell the house. The agent doubled, by default as a gallerist, as visitors had to make an appointment to see the property in order to view the installation. In 2006, Dawood produced his latest such project, Artist’s Studio, which reconsiders romantic notions of the artist’s studio as a space for solitary genius. The year-long project, which continued through May 2007, was made possible by an anonymous patrons provision of a Victorian house in London’s upscale Knightsbridge neighborhood, home to many wealthy art collectors.

Dawood invited 27 international artists to proposed site-specific interventions at the patron’s home, and then selected six artists and collectives to participate: Guillaume Paris, Riccardo Previdi, Marko Maetamm, Szuper Gallery, Khalil Rabah and Shilpa Gupta. Each artist had six weeks to stay at the home and realize their proposal. In his invitation, Dawood stated that Artists’ Studio would “challenge dominant hierarchies of the art object, commodity, real estate and wealth.”

The house stands in a row of brick-lined Victorian facades and looks deceptively small upon entrance. It has three levels, with a basement set around a sunken courtyard. The space is intimate and domestic. The main feature of the living room, which opens onto a wooden porch, is a fireplace. Dawood lived in one of the upstairs bedrooms and used the kitchen as an office. Posting no signage and making no effort to distinguish the home’s entrance from other private residences, Dawood upended the traditional concept of the impersonal public gallery, exposing the politics—and bridging the distance—between sites of art-making and display, in turn initiating a series of exclusive but intimate conversations among art professionals, students and collectors in the know.

Guillaume Paris launched the studio in April 2006 with H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. (Holistic and Utopian Multinational Alliance for New World Order and Research in Living and Dying), a video installation presented as a supermarket of images and products examining the politics of representation in popular and fine art. Visitors entering the house were greeted with disembodied voices engaged in conversation. As the visitors moved around the rooms, monitors placed on pedestals displayed product images morphing from one to the other, and mounted images resembling advertising posters prompted dialogue about the simultaneous roles of spectator and consumer.

Dawood followed up in June with an installation of his own, featuring a simulacrum of the Bolivian jungle during Che Guevara’s last fatal mission—complete with tropical plants, creepers and topsoil—in the living room. In September, Riccardo Previdi projected footage of an exploding villa from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 counterculture film classic Zabriskie Point onto minimalist furniture he built himself, subverting the bourgeois excess of space and setting. In November, Marko Maetamm created a macabre narrative by combining deadly contraptions with children’s play, as in an installation in the upstairs bedroom featuring soft toys placed on a life-size electric chair.

In January 2007, the collective Szuper Gallery presented a performance, filmed on site, which dismantled the process of performance itself. The resulting video focused on the participants’ entrances, rehearsals, enactments and reenactments. In March, Khalil Rabah created a hypothetical office of the United States of Palestine Airlines, a waiting room that inverted the expected dialogues around the Middle East by ironically celebrating the eagerness and adventure of travel as opposed to critiquing violence and conflicted boundaries. Closing out the series, Shilpa Gupta also considered the relation between international travel and paranoia with an installation featuring suitcases labeled, “there is no bomb inside this,” which visitors were asked to take home with them. Gupta had photographers follow them, taking paparazzi-style photographs along the way.

Dawood has played several roles throughout the studio’s existence including roommate, artist, manager, doorkeeper and fundraiser. Underscoring the philosophy of negotiation, exchange and reciprocity, he skewed the authorship of each project by collaborating with artists to realize their ideas, in some cases at the expense of his own comfort when they used the room he inhabited. Dawood explained to ArtAsiaPacific, “The basis for Artists’ Studio was to explore how a space could be developed with one artist facilitating projects by other artists in a spirit of exchange, further underlined by the somewhat untenable position of such a space in one of the wealthiest parts of town.” With Artists’ Studio now complete, Dawood has wasted no time getting back to his own projects, traveling to Alexander Calder’s old studio in the French countryside to shoot a new film. And certainly, one imagines, the lessons learned from the project’s intensive workshop format are being put to use by all its participants.