As part of our grand opening event on Saturday, November 6, 2010, Plug In ICA presents “A Mystery Play” - a project by Shezad Dawood, commissioned for Plug In, featuring a newly commissioned score by Michael G Mills, the Wyoming-born composer who has been a former composer-in-residence with both the London Philharmonic and the Deal music festival. The film installation was produced in Winnipeg as part of Plug-In’s annual Summer Institute in 2010.
For “A Mystery Play”, Dawood reprises his interest in Buster Keaton as well as his connection to Harry Houdini, via the Vaudeville Circuit of the 1920s, which coincidentally included Winnipeg, with both performers having performed at the Pantages Playhouse, which is still in use as the Playhouse Theatre. The new work was staged and filmed between the Playhouse, the Manitoba Legislative Building, the Winnipeg Zoo’s lion cage, and various outdoor locations. Drawing on research into the Masonic symbolism inherent in the Legislative Building, parallel ideas of magic, or visual sleight-of-hand encompassed in the work of both Keaton and Houdini, the film also maps out various other histories and narratives contained within Winnipeg and Canada. Historic figures are introduced, for example, Mademoiselle Adgie, the burlesque dancer who performed with lions for the opening gala of the Pantages Playhouse and Canadian magician, Dai Vernon, known as “the man who fooled Houdini.”
The film itself is an atmospheric black and white short, of thirteen minutes in length, with the action (a lyrical interweaving of the plausible connections between the various characters and the city), intercut with the various stages of initiation incorporated into the architecture of the Legislative Building. The film builds to a final climactic scene, restaging one of the key stunts from Keaton’s classic 1928 Steamboat Bill Jr., where a house appears to spiral down to the ground in a storm, and Keaton steps through the door, thus bringing together the strands of architecture and screen magic.
Shezad Dawood was born in London in 1974 and trained at Central St Martin’s and the Royal College of Art before undertaking a PhD at Leeds Metropolitan University. Dawood works across many different forms of media, and much of his practice involves curating and collaboration, frequently working with other artists to build on and create unique networks of critically engaged discursive circles. His collaborative Feature film (2008) relocated the action of a traditional western to the English country-side, slipping into other sub-genres such as the zombie-flick, and Wagnerian opera (and features cameos from artists Jimmie Durham and David Medalla). Insha’allah 2009 restaged Beckett within Islamic immigrant communities in Milan. Dawood’s work has been exhibited internationally. He currently lives and works in London, where he is Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow in Experimental Media at the University of Westminster.