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Something You Should See… New Dream Machine Project at Parasol Unit

A group of people standing outside in a ring, stock-still, eyes closed, in a trance-like state? I’d usually run a mile. But wait a second – these are not the followers of a dubious new cult but regular members of the public. They are stood around the only object in history designed to be seen with closed eyes: Shezad Dawood’s New Dream Machine Project, a sculptural installation on show at Parasol Unit.

Dawood has behind him an extensive body of written and visual work in which he examines the construction of identity through processes of translation and re-staging. For this piece, he revisits the ‘Dreamachine’, a kinetic light sculpture invented in 1959 by British-Canadian painter Brion Gysin and electronics technician Ian Sommerville. Gysin, at the time influenced by Sufism, developed the Dreamachine as an aid to meditation. An electric bulb is suspended inside a revolving cylinder, which is punctuated at regular intervals with cut-outs and slits. As the cylinder rotates, the light flashes and jitters outwards, creating flickering, abstract light patterns. The idea is that to watch these patterns through closed eyes is to enter a hypnogogic state of consciousness, similar to that of meditation or the limbo-like feeling of floating or falling between wake and sleep. Dawood has responded to Gysin’s original portable cardboard creation by creating a three metre high version in brushed steel. This complex piece investigates the relationships between history and the present, new and obsolete technologies, and science and spirituality.

The New Dream Machine Project is the 2012 instalment of Parasol Unit’s Parasolstice series, for which the gallery annually invites an artist to respond to the phenomenon of light. Dawood’s submission investigates not only our relationship with the light of the spectrum but ideas of an inner, mystical light in his invocation of Gysin’s psychedelic aid. This year’s southern solstice will be at exactly 11:12am on 21.12.12, and mysteriously falls on the last day of the abruptly-ending Mayan Long Count Calendar.  So ever seen an artwork through closed eyes? See it (!) to believe it. (Words: Florence Ritter)

Shezad Dawood’s interactive sculpture will be installed at Parasol Unit until 17th February 2013. For more info, visit


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