Mitra Saboury’s Growth Spurt at The Art House is not comfortable viewing—but revisiting the past rarely is. Reconfiguring working relationships, their formation and their particular physical or emotional politics, is the theme of Saboury’s video/installation, which is the culmination of her recent residency at The Art House. Creating office spaces with deliciously chunky 90s PCs, desks, chairs and associated ephemera from bedroom to university to office, Saboury uses installation, video and above all herself to involve us in unsettling corporeal (re)experiences.
Saboury involved all the team at The Art House in the complex and highly physical art work. At each workstation, screens play videos of these intimate encounters—fruit transfer—Saboury sharing melon mouth to mouth with the Arthouse CEO, swapping bananas chin to chin. Other screens show details of Saboury having her face bound in Sellotape and Blu Tack inserted in her nostrils. A pair of scissors close around her nose, sliced cucumbers are layered carefully over her cheeks. Another video shows Saboury’s hand, adorned with false nails, which burst into flame as they touch a computer key. The strange and stifling intimacy this both encourages and repels is finely balanced in this space.
Office politics and work relationships are playfully and provocatively explored. Close ups of zipped flies sporting protrusions of scissors wrapped in pink Play-doh appear and intrusive, snout like protuberances play oddly compelling versions of rock paper scissors with each other. The viewer needs to stand at the desk, or even sit and face the screen as a user of a computer would, in order to experience these videos thoroughly. On the desktops we see close up the broken, burned nails that were attached to Saboury’s fingers, scribbled Post-it notes, the Sellotape that bound her face and the Blu Tack and paper clips that went up her nose. When the Sellotape is ripped off in one pull there is a moment where surely every viewer must, like I did, experience a sharp intake of breath, a powerful wince of empathy.
In an accompanying film, Saboury talks to camera with a mixture of self-confidence and self-mockery. Her raised eyebrow and faux naïf smile, her question to camera: ‘Do you ever see something that’s unsettling and just stare at it, like waiting, and sometimes you just walk towards it…?’ These are as much about us as viewer as they are about her and her art practice. Saboury reveals her discomfort, her bodily and emotional honesty, her foray into the peculiar agonies of social interaction and—like The Arthouse staff who bravely and cheerfully collaborated in her art practice—she gives it back to us as a gift.
Mitra Saboury: Growth Spurt, The Art House, Wakefield, 25 July – 14 September 2018.
Karen Tobias-Green is a lecturer, researcher and writer at Leeds Arts University.