The dramas and dilemmas of the desiring gaze emerge as a main theme of Dodda Maggy’s two video installations in this exhibition.

Stella (2004) comes in two parts. Part one begins with two girls bouncing up and down against a black background on what is probably a trampoline. Slow motion and a Debussy-ish piano score of tumbling scales and arpeggios (specially composed and performed by the artist) combine to suggest the intoxicating fun they are having. However, we soon discover this is not just the Billy Elliot-ish fun of bouncing up and down; it’s also the joy of simply being together. They clearly find each other irresistible. And this is confirmed by the closing scene where the two of them are shown sitting on the ground, gazing into each other’s eyes.

So what is their relationship? Are they lovers? Are they identical sisters? Is one of them the doppelgänger of the other – the kind of perfect imaginary friend that some children like to invent? Certainly, although they wear different coloured T-shirts and leggings, in many ways they seem uncannily alike. Before we can get any answers, however, the second part of the piece on the wall opposite starts up.

The lack of a sound track in part two seems to confirm that the young woman whose face we watch has a very different mood. Like the ‘girls’ in part one this character is also played by the artist. However, this is not immediately apparent. On the contrary, initially she seems happy enough to be the object of another’s (the viewer’s) gaze as she walks along. Her jewellery, hair and make-up suggest she is at an event of some kind, a film premiere perhaps, and she’s confident she’s looking good. Gradually though we realize she finds the viewer’s attentions intrusive, even threatening and the second part of the work ends with her in obvious distress walking faster and faster, and finally breaking into a run, in a desperate attempt to escape.

It might seem therefore from this description that Stella is a pretty straightforward exercise in fetishistic scopophilia, albeit the narrative in each part remains unresolved. Indeed, the moment when terrified and tearful the young woman tries to hide from view might be seen as distinctly Hitchcockian in character. However, it does not come across like that. This is mostly because of the way the two parts are projected: not in a conventional manner but one after another, on opposite walls of the gallery. For what this does is ensure that at a certain moment we are obliged to turn and face in a new direction: a simple device but one that means that we feel estranged from the narrative; we have to engage with it in a way which is active rather than passive.

A similar Brechtian device occurs in the other work in the exhibition, Margret (2005). Here what prevents us from becoming immersed in the narrative is the fact that we have to listen to the accompanying soundtrack through headphones and have to view the image on a monitor that is just a few centimeters across. Because it’s so tiny all we are able to make out is a tiny white speck in the dark. However, when, rather clumsily, the camera moves in closer it becomes clear what this is. It is a young woman in slightly childish clothes (the infantilized woman again) spinning round and round, playing that game beloved of small children where you spin round until you make yourself dizzy and cannot stand up anymore.

I say ‘game’ because initially, as we watch her spin round, fall to the ground, get up, and start spinning again that is how it seems. Indeed, for a while it is possible to imagine a smile playing on her lips. However, as the sequence repeats itself not just once, but two, three times, this hardly seems appropriate. It is evident she has lost control and is continuing more or less against her will.

But why? What drives her on? At one level it could be the music we hear on the headphones for the impression is that this is being played by some invisible piano-playing authority figure. It is melodious but the way it is repeated over and over has a relentless, domineering quality. However, perhaps it is not so much this as we ourselves who are responsible for her ordeal. How come? Well, there is something about the business of viewing her ‘game’ on a tiny screen that makes one feel like a scientist in charge of an animal experiment or a pleasure-seeker operating an end-of-the-pier peepshow or one of those pirouetting ballerinas in a wind-up music box that you play with as a child.

Is Margret therefore in some way a feminist reflection on the role cinema plays in the construction of the image of woman? Interestingly, the fact that the woman wears starkly black and white clothes coupled with the slightly hammy, theatrical way she throws up her hands every time she falls to the ground and the clumsy camera movement gives the piece a decidedly archaic, early-cinema feel. It does seem therefore as if we are being asked to consider the way in which during its history cinema as an apparatus has served to manage pleasure for its viewers in accordance with the psychic formations of masculine sexuality positioning woman as image and man as the bearer of the look, as Laura Mulvey's famous essay puts it. Indeed, in common with Stella, Margret might be read as an illustration of Mulvey's thesis that in patriarchal culture the image of woman is “bound by the symbolic in which man can live out his fantasies and obsession through linguistic command imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer and not maker of meanings”.