Magazine article Art Monthly

Sarah Dobai: Twenty Second Hold

Magazine article Art Monthly

Sarah Dobai: Twenty Second Hold

Article excerpt

Works/Projects Bristol 6 October to 10 November

At Sarah Dobai's first show with Works/Projects since 'Studio/Location Photographs 2008/9'--photographs of empty, behind-the-scenes corridors of shopping centres alongside images of solitary models languishing in studio sets mimicking these locations--I found myself eschewing private view chatter, drawn instead to spending extended time reflecting on the present work. Projected onto a single freestanding wall, positioned diagonally out across the space from its big roller-shutter door, the video shows the models familiar from Dobai's stills pieces captured relaxing from the frozen poses that had been held for the long photographic exposures required to get the original still shots. This seemingly innocuous gesture has a curiously deflationary effect--as if pricking some deeply held and intangible belief. Enhanced by a deliberate inventory of camera movements--the long shot, the slow pan and the close-up - the repeated gestures of release, the relaxation of limbs and faces, trigger a sort of shock of animation.

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Initially I read this surprise as being due to the models no longer performing the function of blank screens whose nonchalant poses and outfits, carefully co-ordinated with the muted tones of the sets, induced projections of identity and narrative but apparently instead displaying their own volition. Yet almost immediately came the suggestion that the gestures of release were themselves enacted, reflecting Dobai's professed interest in the work of Walter Benjamin on his unfinished Arcades Project from the 1930s. Studying the first covered shopping arcades from the end of the 19th century, Benjamin foresaw the awakening to consciousness of the collective mind distracted by early consumer culture. However, Dobai's work, in suggesting a nuanced relationship between reality and artifice, goes beyond structural dialectical opposition and operates somewhere in the gap between the two. One moment in the work succinctly illustrates this: the model Emily is seen breaking out of her pose from two slightly different camera positions and degrees of close-up. The effect of this device is to suggest the operation of self-awareness, of the thought patterns involved in constructing one's identity from a collage of different imagined images from an external, in this case photographic, position. …

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