Posted in Art Criticism

REVIEW: Sarah Hobbs-‘Untitled (Insomnia)’

Sarah Hobbs
Untitled (Insomnia)

Chromogenic development print: 24 x 30-inch image on 24-5/8 x 30-5/8-inch paper
Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

A sleepless night succumbs to a frustrated sigh, a flinging back of covers and rising from the bed toward the new day’s light that scatters an array of unconnected thoughts until they settle in place once again – hovering. Waiting.

In her photograph, “Untitled (Insomnia),” Atlanta photographer Sara Hobbs visually explores a common malady – sleeplessness. The photograph is among several in Hobbs’ “Small Problems in Living” series that explores human behaviors, phobias and neuroses.

At first glance, one is struck and perhaps, humored by the array of Post-it notes suspended on thin threads from the darkly shadowed ceiling. The notes swarm above the bed like mosquitoes, certainly tickling the face, the head, and any exposed flesh of the exhausted human attempting to sleep below. Taken as a whole, the notes are an irritating army of bright yellow punctuating a sleepless night. Individually, they represent the seconds…the minutes…the hours of an eternal darkness: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 …”

“Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep …”

“Three hours until I have to get up.”

Some reflect on sleep solutions: “Tylenol pm. Nyquil. Dramamine,” or a single unattainable word: “Relax.”

Conjugating verbs and creating compound words passes the time:

“Dive, dove, dived, diven, doven.”

“Foreshadow. Foresee. Foretell. Forebode. Forecast. Forever. Forehead.”

Songs lyrics don’t help: “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by…” as the count continues: “One hour until I have to get up.”

“Why do I bother to set my alarm?”

The soft light filtering from an unseen source – a partially draped window, perhaps, highlights the insomniac’s side of the bed, where the loud purple orange and gold flowers of the sheet argue with a bright green pillowcase, its creases serving as remnants of a sleepless battle. Behind, vertical headboard poles and their stark, respective shadows seem to extend indefinitely, creating an insomniac’s prison on the light blue wall behind.

No human being is in the still life scene Hobbs created first in her mind and then in a room of her Atlanta home, yet make no mistake – the subject is clearly human. The individual objects and the overall scene reflective of a common human experience – sleep and the lack thereof, especially in the contemporary United States. Even the Post-it notes represent humanity and our need to control a constant flow of information, who we need to call, what we need to do – bright yellow interruptions stuck around our computer screens, covering our office walls, home refrigerators and bathroom mirrors, harassing us throughout the day and now, through the night.

With this particular photograph as well as others in the series, all unnamed but with suggested titles that include (Fate Compulsion), (Obsessiveness), (Paranoia), (Ladies Man) and (Perfectionist) among them, Hobbs provides insight into our own thought processes using common objects as visual metaphors. The bright, color photographs in the series are all created in large format (4 x 5) with natural light, and are printed large enough (more than six square feet) to give viewers a sense of the original space. A sense of humor permeates her work, in this case in the almost incongruent bright flowers mixed with pink polka dots and Post-it notes suspended from an unseen space above because, according to Hobbs, “We all have little quirks and phobias and that’s what makes us all so interesting.”

1 – Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago,
2- Sarah Hobbs, podcast; Art Institute of Chicago; Aug. 23, 2007;



I'm a writer, editor, photographer and artist living in rural Southeastern Wisconsin. I grew up in Chicago, made my way to the deep woods of Northern Minnesota and then landed here among the cornfields and cows. It's quite simply my happy place.

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