St Pancras International unveils HMS Alice Liddell, a major new site-responsive art installation by Shezad Dawood.
Combining wide-ranging science fiction, steampunk, architectural and literary references, Dawood’s sculpture imagines a new travel vessel, reconfiguring the past to suggest the importance of shared journeys into possible collective futures.
St Pancras is such a nexus and a meeting point for so many communities in London and beyond: it connects London with the East Coast Mainline, and provides a direct link to Europe via the Eurostar. I wanted the work to speak to both St Pancras’s history and also to its dynamic future. With everything that is going on, it’s important to celebrate London’s diversity and big heart, and I hope this project, with its meeting of past and future, allows us all to imagine alternative pathways, and how we might collectively work together to travel in new directions.Shezad Dawood
Situated in The Circle – a modern area of the station located in the junction between the original building and its modern extension – HMS Alice Liddell reflects elements of William Henry Barlow’s innovative and radical engineering of the station itself, as well as Sir George Gilbert Scott’s gothic spires of the now St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. This iconic architecture was formative to Dawood, who grew up locally and has a longstanding relationship with the area. Its aesthetic and cultural heritage is profoundly embedded in the work: the sculpture’s namesake is the real inspiration behind Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Carroll’s original manuscript is archived in the neighbouring British Library.
Dawood’s work reclaims Alice as a traveller for our times: a proto-science fiction heroine who explored the quantum possibilities of multiple, but connected realities and universes. In Dawood’s trademark blend of physical and digital worlds, visitors can use their phones to scan a QR code that unlocks an Augmented Reality filter, expanding the experience of the work. Together with the physical sculpture, this digital space invites audiences of all ages to embark, much like Alice in Wonderland, on literal and metaphorical journeys, moving through the past and into a kaleidoscopic future.
The AR also reflects Dawood’s collaborative approach, featuring a newly commissioned song by JayaHadADream, a member of the Nottingham-based, all-female music collective WondHERland established in partnership with New Art Exchange. This collaboration connects the commission in London with the vibrant art scene of Nottingham, a key stop on the HS1 route. Audiences will be able to tune into a series of podcasts produced by WondHERland in dialogue with the themes in Dawood’s work, and listen to songs written by the musicians on St Pancras Station’s well-loved jukebox. This collaboration also involved visual artist Honey Williams, and sound artist Tom Harris, both of whom are also Nottingham based creatives.
Suspended in space, and able to be enjoyed from multiple vantage points, HMS Alice Liddell is painted with a polychromatic finish, in a nod to the psychedelic colourways of imagined wonderlands and voyages to outer space, while also paying homage to the diversity of London’s communities. The work embodies a fantastical vision, where the past meets the future of travel, technology and collective experience, via the space of the imagination.
We are delighted to unveil this ambitious new commission which continues our celebration of the arts industry, in addition to offering visitors a new thought-provoking, cultural experience. Shezad’s hugely detailed design combines clever references to our history, architecture, local community, literature and travel and we look forward to seeing how all ages interact with the work through viewing the public installation, and via a new interactive AR experience.Wendy Spinks, Commercial Director at HS1
About the artist
Shezad Dawood is a multidisciplinary artist who interweaves stories, realities and symbolism to create richly layered artworks, spanning painting, textiles, sculpture, film and digital media. Fascinated by ecologies and architecture, his work takes a philosophical approach, asking questions and exploring alternative futures through what Dawood describes as ‘world-building’ and ‘imagineering’. His practice is animated by research, working with multiple audiences and communities to delve into narrative, history and embodiment.
Dawood’s work has been shown at institutions including Tate, MoMA, Pioneer Works, Venice Biennale, Gwangju Biennale, Taipei Biennale, Sharjah Biennial, Manifesta and Wiels. His work has been acquired for international collections including Tate, Guggenheim, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, National Gallery of Canada, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UK Government Art Collection, Government Art Collection, UBS, and The British Museum.
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 is a Senior Research Fellow in Experimental Media at the University of Westminster. He lives and works in London.