Celebrating Analog

Article excerpt

Tacita Dean: FILM

The Turbine Hall, Tate Modern

London, U.K.

October 11, 2011-March 11, 2012

Housed in a former power station designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the Tate. Modern benefits from an immense, five-story exhibition space known as the Turbine Hall. Each year since the gallery's opening in 2000, Unilever has sponsored an artist to create an installation for this space. Past pieces include Olafur Eliasson's "The Weather Project'" (2003-04), which brought sun, sky, and clouds indoors; and Carsten Holler's "Test Site" (2006 07), a long, curly, silver tube for visitors to slide down. Doris Salcedo created a large crack in the floor of the hall for "Shibboleth" (2007-08), while last year Ai Weiwei's "Sunflower Seeds" covered the same floor with 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds. Tacita Dean's "FILM" is the latest Turbine Hall installation, and the first to focus solely on the moving image, in this eleven-minute silent experimental film, Dean expresses her appreciation for the analog format, now under threat from digital technology.

Dean's film is projected onto a thirteen-meter-high white block, and is in portrait format, rather than the landscape orientation cinema audiences are accustomed to. The artist's interest in analog filmmaking is immediately apparent, as every image is Hanked by the sprocket holes that characterize celluloid film stock. Dean successfully evokes the unique qualities of celluloid film: richly textured black-and-white images, luxurianth saturated color stock, and the manipulation of the physical film roll itself, via hand-tinting individual frames, cutting, splicing, and superimposing. Dean thus adopts the methods of cinema's early practitioners, but her approach is equally implicated in the history of art. Dean explains in the exhibition notes: "My process is one of incomprehensible and anachronistic labor, as is all artistic process. Film is my working material and I need the stuff of film like a painter needs the stuff of paint."

"FILM" evokes the history of cinema and art not only in its creation but also in its content. Orthogonal blocks of color suggest Piet Mondrian's canvases; images of architecture and machinery reference the elegant simplicity and raw minimalism of Bauhaus and Russian constructivism; surrealism abounds in an ostrich egg superimposed on a shot of the Turbine Hall itself: a series of identical stunning mountaintops alludes to the prints of Utagawa Hiroshtige. Dean complements urban footage of fountains and high-rises with shots of the natural world: the powerful verticals of trees and richly colored close-ups of mushrooms, fruits, and flowers. …