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1963, Tel Aviv. Lives in London.

Lifeguards is a two-screen audiovisual installation that constitutes the culmination of Dreyfus’ efforts, over the last decade, to prise open the gap between perception and cultural understanding.
The viewer is presented with a colourful, painterly scene of women and children playing in the water off the Tel Aviv beach, an archetypal image of leisure. In contrast to most art historical depictions of bathers, the figures are presented drifting aimlessly in the sea rather than seated on the shore, a subtle encapsulation of the condition of landlessness that lies at the heart of conflict in the region. Shot from afar and screened silently, the image offers a tightly framed, partial glimpse that holds viewers at a distance, only for them to be suddenly immersed in an aggressive soundscape as the image gives way to the rapid fire of the lifeguards’ commands. Subtitles synchronised with their utterances flash onto the screen, often so rapidly that they obstruct rather than enhance comprehension. Such controlled sensory switches, between spoken and written word, light and darkness, sound and silence, intensify the experience of each sensation, drawing out their specific psychological effects while fragmenting the scene into seemingly incompatible perspectives.
The way culture is embedded in speech has been one of Dreyfus’ longstanding preoccupations. Here she focuses on the lifeguards’ functional use of language, emphasising the rupture between their militant tone and the caring and protective content of their speech, as the unfolding sub-narrative of Judith, a lost little girl, reveals. The lifeguards’ performance of security is made all the more disconcerting by its total integration with the everyday. The threshold of normality is redefined: the repetitive thwack of a bat hitting a ball and the cadence of the ocean continues, apparently oblivious to the spectre of violence and fear seeping into our lives.

Helen Legg


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