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From the Hugh Lane Gallery Exhibition Archive 2007 #flashbackfriday returns to: Tacita Dean
Running through Tacita Dean’s work is an obsession with time, especially with things that are on the verge of disappearance - objects and structures, which in their day promised much but have since become outmoded. In our present circumstances there is an empathetic understanding for Dean’s wistful remembrances of what is passing.
In 2007 the Hugh Lane Gallery hosted Dean’s first solo exhibition in Ireland. It was curated by Christina Kennedy, then Head of Exhibitions and we were presented throughout the exhibition, with the reassuring, melancholy burr of film running through projectors - (A sound integral to 20th century cinema, but now lost, as film went digital). Much of what we encountered in Tacita Dean’s art is stirringly elusive. Like Bas Jan Ader forever lost “in search of the miraculous,” Dean is consumed by mystery. Waiting and watching, chance and coincidence offer a sense of history, time and place. Many of her artworks are located in and respond to a particular place, story, object or event from the past and also in the present. It will be interesting to know how Dean and other artists respond to our post pandemic world.
This idea brings to mind the work acquired by Hugh Lane Gallery for the collection in 2008 entitled ‘Michael Hamburger’ (2007), a 16mm anamorphic colour film which it can be viewed here:
The film was commissioned to make a work in relation to the German writer W.G. Sebald (1944-2001). Dean chose as her subject the German poet and translator Michael Hamburger (1924-2007) whom Sebald meets in a chapter of his book ‘The Rings of Saturn’ (1995). In the novel Sebald spends two days on a walking tour in Southwold, England, a spell that prompts a mental journey into the history of colonial exploitation in the Congo, and the links between novelist Joseph Conrad and English knight, Irish nationalist and, ultimately, British traitor, Roger Casement. This journey brings Sebald to the door of Michael Hamburger. Michael Hamburger was also a keen grower and historian of the various varieties of eating apples. In her 28 minute film Dean concentrates on Hamburger's love of apples, while the rambling house, encroaching garden, sunlight, rattling wind and the appearance of a rainbow all act as a metaphor for the man as poet.
Returning to the exhibition a film work entitled ‘Presentation Sisters’ (2005) commissioned by the now NCAD Director Sarah Glennie for the European City of Culture was installed. Dean was initially drawn to the small immaculate graveyard where the Sisters of the Presentation Convent were buried alongside the founder Nano Nagle’s tomb. Dean came to know and spend time with the nuns in the South Convent in Cork City and documented their daily rituals of prayer, making tea and scones, female domesticity, chatting and watching television, as the artist notes “[daily rituals] are all the more precious because they are finite”. It is a beautiful record of a way of life that would have been prevalent for a time in Ireland. Since 2005, this historical location has been preserved and the site transformed in memory of this sisterhood.
Dean trained as a painter and works in a variety of media and along with the film works, she also produced a number of sculptural pieces, in particular ‘Chalk Balls’ (2006), found objects from Madagascar used as ceremonial make up. Dean placed the balls on carbon paper, which is incredibly fragile and its deep black surface can be marked easily. The work became a process of delicate precision of where and how to balance the balls on the surface, much like her film works, a game of chance and also a reminder of her earliest works that consisted of chalk on blackboard, a haunting medium that leaves a trace of something that once was.
Dean’s dedication to 16mm film was also seen in a work titled ‘Kodak’ (2006). The last film-processing studio closed in London, which ignited the artist to launch a one-woman campaign in the Guardian newspaper to try to save it. 1 The film depicts the last days of the Kodak Factory at Chalon-sur-Saône, France. The Director of Kodak responded to the artist's film, “Your movie has captured the special atmosphere of our operations, movements of the web, light, darkness, people as ghosts lost in a strange world. The sound is exactly what I have in mind when I think of the years spent in the various shop-floors of our operations…”2 It is the light quality, and the essence of film itself which is what makes Dean’s work unique.
The still nature of her films invokes associations with the qualities of painting. As a landscape artist she is a natural heir to Constable and Turner, a beholder of big skies and seas, with an uncanny ability to make you watch time passing, to see into the heart of things.3
Tacita Dean (b.1965) lives and works in Berlin and Los Angeles. Solo exhibitions were recently held at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark (2019); Moody Center for the Arts, Houston, Texas (2019); Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal (2019); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2018); The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland (2018); as well as The Royal Academy of Arts (London, England), as part of a trilogy of exhibitions held in conjunction with the city’s National Gallery, and National Portrait Gallery (2018); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico (2016). She has received the following prizes: Aachen Art Prize (2002); the Primo Regione Piemonte Art Prize from the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy (2004); the Sixth Bennesse Prize at the 51st Venice Biennale (2005); the Hugo Boss Prize winner at the Guggenheim Museum, New York (2006); and the Kurt Schwitters Preis Award, Germany (2009). Dean also participated in the Venice Biennale in 2003 and 2005.
Image: Tacita Dean, still from 'The Green Ray', 2001, 16mm colour film, 2 minutes 30 seconds. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman, New York and Paris.
1 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/mar/11/tacita-dean-interview-celluloid-heroine-london-exhibitions-film interview with Tim Adams, visited 27 April 2020
2 ‘In conversation with Tacita Dean’ (2007) by Christina Kennedy, Hugh Lane Gallery exhibition guide.
3 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/mar/11/tacita-dean-interview-celluloid-heroine-london-exhibitions-film interview with Tim Adams, visited 27 April 2020