Shereen Saif twirls around in a flared skirt in a four-minute video being played on loop.
At first glance, this visual installation at Al Fahidi District might seem like any other – except that visitors are required to lay on a mattress and stare at the ceiling, because that’s where the film is projected.
Created by two Dubai-based Indians – Saif, a classical dancer, and filmmaker Swapna Kurup, for Sikka Art Fair – Amorphous is a non-linear narrative reflecting the stream-of-consciousness thoughts we experience when we go to bed, all interpreted through movement.
Sometimes Saif performs live, with the film projected in the background, which extends the surreal mood for visitors, who feel like they are being sucked into her dream.
Kurup, who first teamed up with Saif for the Sikka fair in 2014, says she had been toying for a year with the idea of portraying an “unleashed mind” through performance.
As part of their group Lumiere Collective, the two artists were commissioned again this year – this time to experiment with a different storytelling style.
“The story doesn’t have a structure and, quite like one’s thoughts, is shapeless,” says the 34-year-old Kurup.
“The concept stems from the idea that you have thoughts, feelings and emotions that you tend to ignore for most part of the day, but somehow your mind has a way of projecting it back at you as you shift gears between the various stages of sleep.”
They chose to project the film on to the ceiling so that visitors, laying on a white mattress below, would become a part of the installation.
The room is set up in a way that a screen merges with the conical roof of House 16, creating an inverted projection.
The video sequence opens with Saif waking up in a psychedelic setting – the cycles of time between sleep and consciousness are presented with lighting cues of amber and blues.
Saif points out that the audience isn’t watching a conventional dance performance but interpretive movement.
“The vocabulary is that of classical dance but the movements came organically to depict struggle, union, loneliness and joy,” says the 38-year-old, who is trained in the classical dance forms of Bharatanatyam and Kathak.
In one sequence, Saif is entangled in a piece of net and struggles to break free.
“The net shows the feeling of being claustrophobic and strangled. My conflict in the moment is what becomes an aesthetic performance,” she says. “The spins are taken from Kathak.”
The music is an eclectic mix of basic rhythms and beats from independent international artists such as Flux Bikes, Metrotune and Blue Dot Sessions.
As the Sikka fair draws to a close tomorrow, Saif will again become a part of the installation, laying on the mattress and observing audience reaction.
“We tried this on the opening day and it was interesting to see the reaction of people who walked in,” says the artist.
“I just did whatever came organically when I immersed myself in that world.
“Sometimes I looked at the screen, or closed my eyes. Sometimes I would sit and then stand. For some, this was quite scary and it becomes very surreal. It’s like the artist has come out of a 2-D film and onto this bed. For the audience, it’s like walking into someone’s space.”
Kurup says some people didn’t know how to react.
“They aren’t quite sure if they want to lie down and watch it. Some of them didn’t even want to enter the room and preferred viewing it from the corridor.”
Saif adds: “When people leave, you see their creases on the bed. Once I smooth them out, which became quite ritualistic for me, people are more at ease and come and take that spot.”
• Amorphous is on from 4pm to 10pm Wednesday and Thursday; Saif will perform at 7pm Thursday. At House 16 in Al Fahidi District. For more information, visit www.artweek.ae