Tacita Dean

Coursework, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 4: Developing Methods - Traces of Time, Research & Reflection

Tacita Dean

Nationality: English
Born: 1965
Major Works: Disappearance at Sea (1996). Mosquito (1997), Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty (1998), Sound Mirrors (1999), The Green Ray (2001), Kodak (2006), FILM (2011)
Years Active: 1992-present
Medium: 16-mm film, drawing
Style: Films that resemble drawings, no narration or score, no fancy lighting “I like things to happen within the frame”.

Reflections

Padlet link to research.

Tacita Dean is someone I have been aware of, mainly due to the film The Green Ray which I looked into back in Project One and also from her book Place (Dean and Millar, 2005) but before this project, I would definitely rate my knowledge as sparse.

Expansive is a word that springs to mind when I began to research her work. This one entry can never do justice to the scope and breadth of her work, so I am going to focus on what I see as some common themes that run through her work and particular pieces that caught my eye. I also want to focus on any inspiration I can take for my own creative journey.

Common Themes

As detailed on the padlet research board, I have looked at a variety of Dean’s work, although I feel I still have only scraped the surface. There seem to be some common themes that run through them which I would like to reflect on.

One thing that is clear from pieces like Mosquito (Magnetic) (Dean, 1997), Kodak (Dean, 2006) is a determination to keep older means of producing art and video alive such as 16 mm film. There is a nostalgia for the past and the way we used to create and a focus on keeping these industries alive. Dean herself says:

“There’s something in the emotional language, the emulsion, and the movement and the breathing that makes film a very alive medium, whereas digital projection is inert.”

Tacita Dean

Dean writes in an article for The Guardian (Dean, 2011) about her wish for celluloid film to maintain its presence in art and video and her sadness at the last 16mm lab in England closing. She talks of her process of creating films using 16 mm as being “intrinsically bound up in the solitary hours of watching, spooling and splicing” and how there is a “magical transformation” with analogue techniques that digital can’t replicate.

This has made me stop and think about the importance of the method used to create as being equal in stature to the end result. Modernity seems to continually look for shortcuts, we now have apps such as canva that turn everyone into a graphic artist with ready-made templates and images to snap in place. Is this art? Or in taking all these shortcuts are we losing true creativity and is everything becoming a cookie-cutter replica of each other. There is something about a hands-on, slow and arduous process that reflects in the final piece. Would Dean’s work like The Green Ray (Dean, 2001) have the same impression if it was filmed and edited digitally?

I think people are starting to appreciate times gone by and the processes we used to have. Recently there are movements such as “Slow Food” which has a focus on slow, traditional methods over mass production. There is a sense of loss when old industries die out and artists like Dean are highlighting this with the use of materials such as 16 mm film.

It brings me to think again of Katie Paterson’s Future Library and how the world will look in one hundred years. By reflecting on the past, we jump to thoughts about the future. That is what thinking about Time does, it seems difficult to only think in one direction.

Another common theme I see is this technique that has been described as “drawing with film”. This in some ways seems to contradict the idea of keeping to the old ways. In bringing film into the idea of drawing, are we losing traditional drawing techniques? This idea is explored to some extent in Ed Krcma’ Tate paper (Krcma, 2010) who suggests that drawing is more aligned with analogue technologies like film. Interestingly in this paper a comparison to William Kentridge’s work is made which is a link I han’ tmade previously but I think it is a very valid one as both do use film and drawing together to create something very new.

Highlights

One piece by Dean I was immediately drawn to was Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty (Dean, 1998). The Spiral Jetty is still something I keep coming back to for inspiration and so my interested was certainly stimulated when I found out that Dean shares a similar fascination. Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty is a sound piece that Dean recorded when travelling to the United States to visit the Jetty. She didn’t find the Jetty but recorded her experience, analoguely of course.

Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty, Tacita Dean

Building on this sound recording, Tacita Dean made contact with JG Ballard who was also a great admirer of Smithson and they exchanged a series of letters over a period of time. This lead to the making of the film JG (Dean, 2014) hich features images of the salt lakes intertwined with Smithson’s Jetty and Ballards short stories. Tacita Dean said of the project:

“Both works have an analog heart, not just because they were made or written when spooling and reeling were the means to record and transmit images and sound, but because their spiraling is analogous to time itself.”

Tactita Dean

In order to mix the landscape and time in the same frame, Tacita Dean used a technique that “used various purpose made masks of different shapes to mask the gate aperture rendering an effect of stenciling, layering the filmed images” (Galerie Marie Goodman, 2014).

I think of Dean using Smithson and Ballard’s work as a basis in a similar way to the Ekphrastic poems. Creating something using a very different discipline based on an earlier piece of work. This has given me a lot of ideas and inspiration about how I may keep Smithson’s work at the basis of something I could create.

Inspiration and Ideas

When I first cames across Tacita Dean in the introductory lecture with her Green Ray film, it wasn’t one of the works I was initially drawn to and I didn’t look too much into it at the time. However, now having spent some more time exploring her work it has given me a lot of ideas and inspiration for how I could develop my own work.

One approach I want to experiment with in the next few days is using film as a drawing technique. I sadly don’t currently have access to analogue filming equipment to fully appreciate this style but am hoping I can create something digitally.

In the future, I want to experiment with analogue photography and filming. I remember the anticipation as a child taking photos where you had to wait and see what returned from the developers and you didn’t have the chance to take 100s of versions of the same shot to get a good digital photo. I will see if I can get hold of a camera to allow to do this.

Looking at Tacita Dean’s work has also renewed my interest in the Spiral Jetty and land art. Perhaps there is a way I can combine “cinematic drawing” with taking photos of spirals in the local environment.

References

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