Alex Prager’s Dawn invites us to consider multiple meanings. The dawn: a rebirth, the sunrise, always another opportunity to start again, in the light. Or there’s Dawn, a name that feels like it belongs to a woman with this kind of perm, this kind of manicure, in this body. But the oppositions at the heart of this image, and of Prager’s latest body of work in The Mountain (at Lehmann Maupin until 5 March), are as much a matter of direction as meaning. In the middle of a pandemic that has left indelible marks on what it means to be human today, Alex Prager is taking the lift with us, asking: “Going up, or going down?”
Suspended in mid-air under the click of Prager’s camera, this woman both jumps into a blue expanse and falls from a great height. There’s a kind of balletic grace to her, as if there are invisible wires attached to her body, or she’s a flying cherub in a baroque painting. We think of freedom because she is naked, and really naked, not nude. But the slightly grubby looking white socks confound, confirming the feeling that this woman has not yet achieved an escape from the worries of the world. The socks are a kind of punctuation that embarrasses, that decisively remove any chance of this body being met with a sexualised gaze.
“I wanted to make something that mirrored the rollercoaster of emotions that I’d been on”
For Prager, The Mountain, concerned as it is with precariousness, with in-between places, was her instinctive response to a cultural moment of instability. “I wanted to make something that mirrored the rollercoaster of emotions that I’d been on,” she says of her subjects, all of whom wheel through the sky on a mythical mountaintop in these works. “And the feeling of being in this limbo, this purgatory, where I did not know what the future held for me.”
For someone better known for her work with busy scenes, this series forces a shift in our relationship to Prager’s subjects, asking us not to zoom in on the dramas of individuals in a crowd, but to spend some time with them when there is no-one else around. With everybody on the planet having experienced new forms of isolation in one way or another in recent years, Prager’s lonely figures reveal that isolation for what it really is: the kind of teetering that occurs when you have to make a decisive choice between dwelling on what was before, and embracing what is to come.
Claire Marie Healy is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant based in London