Black Sun with Shezad Dawood

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Black Sun is a term with multiple meanings. It represents the eclipse of the day, but is also a symbol of esoteric or occult significance, used in various belief systems, from Hinduism to western hermetic traditions. It is linked to the metaphor dark night of the soul, which is used to describe a phase in a person’s spiritual life, marked by a sense of loneliness and desolation, and which can be experienced in particular by those who are marginalised by ethnicity, sexuality and displacement. Black Sun therefore relates to eclipse, transfiguration and alchemy.

These multiple notions embedded in that of the black sun are the starting point for both an exhibition and a publication. The exhibition is curated by artist Shezad Dawood, with curator Tom Trevor. Artists whose work is part of the exhibition include Ayisha Abraham, Ashish Avikunthak, Matti Braun, James Lee Byars, Maya Deren, Desire Machine Collective, Zarina Hashmi, Runa Islam, Nasreen Mohamedi, Lisa Oppenheim, The Otolith Group, Tino Sehgal, Tejal Shah, Alexandre Singh and Wolfgang Tillmanns.

Both the exhibition and the publication examine structures that look to deconstruct or displace our everyday modes of seeing. Rather than a traditional catalogue, the publication is a parallel platform to the exhibition and allows for a more in-depth exploration of the concept and issues outlined above. It contains three main texts: ‘Black Sun: Alchemy, Diaspora and Heterotopia’, by artist/curator Shezad Dawood; ‘Blind Spot. On the metaphor of the Sun: light, language and melancholia’, by curator Tom Trevor; ‘The Rothschilds’ Revolution’ by curator/researcher Megha Ralapati; and a conversation between Shezad Dawood and Kodwo Eshun from The Otolith Group. Alongside these essays, short texts on each artist participating in the project, and a range of visual and textual references complete the book. Designers are OK-RM.

Although the range of artists and authors involved with the project was selected early on by Shezad, the actual process of putting the book together took about two years. His, and Megha’s, text involved a slow process of setting out, expanding, revisiting and adding. The conversation between Shezad, Kodwo and myself was slowly distilled from a 100-page transcript. The shorter texts about the individual artists involved in the project required another approach again. It’s exactly this diversity, deftly responded to by the designers, whose work references centuries of book design, that has made it into a very rich and sensuous object, that can be engaged with time and again without a need to see the exhibition at all.

Black Sun opened at the Devi Art Foundation in November 2013.

The book was published by the Devi Art Foundation, the Arnolfini in Bristol, and Ridinghouse, London.

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Subplots to a City

7.-Jeppe-Hein1-e1296412519175In Certain Places in Preston commissioned Shezad Dawood’s film project Piercing Brightness, and the Harris Museum & Art Gallery hosted the first in a series of shows related to the artist’s project and wider practice. Working with Shezad on the publication alongside the exhibitions (see this post), I met the film’s commissioners, Charles Quick and Elaine Speight, who wrote a text for the book. They subsequently invited me to work with them on a publication that would capture ten years of In Certain Places’ activities.

In Certain Places is a programme of temporary public artworks and events that examines how artists can contribute to the development of a city. The scheme, which was initiated in 2003, is a partnership between the Harris Museum & Art Gallery Preston, and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). In Certain Places has worked with regional, national and international artists (the image shows Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms, which emerged in Preston’s city centre in June–July 2006) to develop temporary public artworks for the city, hosted artist residencies, and throughout its ten years of existence has organised public talks about art, place and the city.

My approach to working with Charles and Elaine has been a very slow one (I first visited Preston in summer 2012). On the one hand that’s because we’re all busy people, but on the other hand because the ongoing face-to-face and skype conversations, exchanges of documents and lists and emailed propositions allow for what I think is an important percolation process. Rather than ‘simply’ archiving and documenting things as they happened chronologically and representing projects as they manifested themselves via text and image, it’s become a process of (self-)reflection about both In Certain Places’ practice and modes of operation, and how public art commissioning and its processes in general have changed.

Subplots to a City includes texts by, among others, Paul O’Neill, Jonathan Vickery, Owen Hatherley, Lubaina Himid, Sophie Hope and Charles Quick & Elaine Speight. It will feature case studies of projects and interviews with and statements of people involved, including artists and project participants. The book is designed by Jasmine Raznahan of ARPA.

Planned publication date: November 2014