If you have seen any of Hamed Sahihi’s previous works, then seeing this exhibition of videos and framed drawings might feel like you are having a déjà vu experience, or recognising an old friend again after a long time. Phobophobia is a new work in a new season, but it is also a continuation of Sahihi’s previous work, and to some extent it is a key to understanding what he was expressing in his previous works. As always, this artist is playful, and thought-provoking, menacing and safe, all at the same time. Hamed Sahihi has entitled this new series as a manifesto to his fears, and to all our fear. The structure of the work is simplicity itself. There are 15 frame boxes, each with a screen displaying a short video; each lasts just a minute or so, but within that minute the sequence loops on itself every 6-10 seconds. Fears repeat themselves and are in essence simple, and each video is an instance of a type of fear. Also, in antique frames the artist has picked up somewhere, there is a series of drawings, on which the videos are based, individually labelled in Persian and English, with the Greek name of the particular phobia referred to in the drawing, and a comment, for example:
|4. Somnophobia: Incubus –ever since childhood the experience of nightmare and incubus have frightened. Image courtesy of the artist.|
• A huge balloon-like shape, which simultaneously has the appearance of a massive rock, ‘floats’ and rotates suspending on cords below it a frame within which a person is horizontal – yet the person does not rotate. This is entitled ‘Somnophobia: Incubus –ever since childhood the experience of nightmare and incubus have frightened me to death, I don’t mind them anymore.’
|7. Insectophobia: Insects –When I was young, my cousin pinned a cockroach, the cockroach kept walking. Image courtesy of the artist.|
• Two cockroaches constantly circle one another, but each is also pierced through the middle. The title is ‘Insectophobia: Insects –When I was young, my cousin pinned a cockroach, the cockroach kept walking.’
|3. Pteromoerhanophobia: Flight – I’m extremely frightened of flight. Image courtesy of the artist.|
|2. Thanatophobia: death –I fear humans turn into nothing. Image courtesy of the artist.|
|5. Achuluphobia: Darkness –When I was a child, I always walked into the walls when in darkness. Image courtesy of the artist.|
|8. Metathesiophobia: change –I fear the changes of things I am used to. Image courtesy of the artist.|
|11. Apeirophobia: Infinity –I have always feared anything infinite that I’m unable to imagine. Image courtesy of the artist.|
|12. Catoprophobia: Mirror –I’m frightened of the world inside mirrors. Image courtesy of the artist.|
|1. Claustrophobia: suffocation –I feared the absence of air. Image courtesy of the artist.|
There is a fully-dressed man, who appears to be suspended in mid-air, with boxes falling down from above to below, and circles rising around him. The caption explains: ‘I’ve always feared the sea, I’m never learned how to swim.’ The man is in fact drowning in water, not falling through air, and the boxes are debris (from a shipwreck?) falling past him, and the circles air bubbles rising to the surface. This pair of examples illustrates how, having boxed and named the fear objectively for the intellect, the actual video and drawing create a direct experience of fear subjectively in the viewer.
The narrative within each video sequence and framed sketch is minimalist, momentary, touching on the primeval and instinctual, dwelling in the unconscious: it is not protracted, rational and interesting to the conscious mind. One of the most revealing of the video sequences is Number 6 ‘Phasmophobia: Demons –I’ve always feared unknown evil creatures.’
And what we say about kids who have fears like that is that they have a vivid imagination. But at a certain point, most of us learn to leave these kinds of visions behind and grow up. We learn that there are no monsters hiding under the bed, and not every earthquake brings buildings down. But maybe it’s no coincidence that some of our most creative minds fail to leave these kinds of fears behind as adults. The same incredible imaginations that produced “The Origin of Species,” “Jane Eyre” and “The Remembrance of Things Past,” also generated intense worries that haunted the adult lives of Charles Darwin, Charlotte Brontë and Marcel Proust. So the question is, what can the rest of us learn about fear from visionaries and young children? 
- Aida Foroutan, ‘The Reception of Surrealism in Iran’, PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 2012, chapter 5.
- Karen Thompson Walker,‘What fear can teach us’, Ted Global (June 2012); see https://www.ted.com/, accessed May 2016.