Ten Rooms, One Vision
Can an 18th-century London town house be a multicultural work of contemporary art?
Becky Sunshine -- Interior Design, 8/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
"Film stills" from a faux Blow-Up remake, hung in the gallery at artist Shezad Dawood's house.
The kitchen's Verner Panton chairs and vintage Scandinavian table set up as pedestals for TV monitors playing videos of Dawood meditating.
Blow-Up stills scattered on the gallery's industrial vinyl floor, near the restored Georgian windows.
Architect Tughela Gino's double-height rear extension.
Epiphany, the neon tandoori sculpture in the artist's bedroom.
It's nothing new for a young artist to colonize a derelict urban area and set up a live-work space. It's altogether different for that artist to transform his space into a sculpture in its own right—the ultimate statement of art as object or commodity. But that's exactly what Shezad Dawood did with his Georgian terrace house in London's East End.
The project started three years ago—in the time-honored way. "I needed a place to develop work in disparate mediums," says Dawood, an artist who's shown at the Tate Modern and Whitechapel Art Gallery. "I also needed a place to live." So he bought the small four-story house at 9 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green, and enlisted his architect friend Tughela Gino, formerly of Nicholas Grimshaw and Ove Arup's firms.
She didn't have much to work with. "You could stand at the top of the house and look through to the basement," Dawood recalls. "It was a total wreck." In addition, as a Grade II listed property dating to 1788, it was subject to strict renovation guidelines. Nevertheless, Dawood and Gino spent the next two years rebuilding everything: replacing the collapsed roof, repointing the brick, restoring the Georgian windows, and constructing a double-height annex behind the original house.
Inspiration for the interior came from Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey. "Movie references crop up a lot in my work, and the idea of total whiteness is something I've been interested in," Dawood explains. "I was also thinking about the way it's used in advertising and graphic design to decontextualize space. Tughela understood the idea and loved it."
"Generated by concept but led by pragmatism," Gino says, the design evolved as an intentionally artificial environment entirely in pure white, from the industrial vinyl floor to the powder-coated hardware and light fixtures, the circular ceramic mosaic tiles in the three bathrooms, the leather-covered sofa and lacquered nesting tables in the basement media room, and Verner Panton's chairs in the eat-in kitchen. Fluidity and seamlessness were equally important: the pivoting frosted-glass door to the guest bath, cubbylike recessed shelving, and under-floor heating that ensures uninterrupted wall space. Meanwhile, features such as the internal window between a stair landing and the rear extension's office would offer unexpected lines of vision—a reference to Dawood's fixation with the film Blow-Up, in which a man accidentally photographs evidence of a murder.
Architecture and furnishings complete, Dawood began to live and work in the house. But an environment filled with art is not necessarily an art object. That's when curator Chris Hammond, director of London's MOT gallery, suggested transforming the entire building into an installation comprising Dawood's photographs, hoax movie posters, and video and sound pieces—then offering it as an integral object, available for viewing and sale through a local real-estate agent. "We were making an explicit comment about conditions of value," Hammond explains. Getting a glimpse of the artist's lifestyle became part of the exhibition, the sale part of the creative process.
The agent recommends starting in Dawood's third-floor bedroom, where a wall of mirrored closet doors reflects a multicolored neon sculpture, spelling the word tandoori, and a video installation of the artist as the Hindu god Krishna. Down a level, in the second floor's large gallery, color "film stills" from a hoax Pakistani remake of Blow-Up are clipped to a clothesline. The ground-floor kitchen's black Scandinavian table and white Panton chairs support TVs playing videos of the artist meditating in various open-air locations. In the basement media room, a sitar sound track and a large blue screen transport you into a dimension that's almost more mental than physical.
Once the "art object" sells, what happens to its inhabitant? Dawood says he's ready for another experiment: He's considering the notion of reverse gentrification, leaving Bethnal Green for Knightsbridge, one of London's grandest neighborhoods.