Tacita Dean

Canterbury England 1965, lives and works in Berlin

Tacita Dean's fascination with film is partly nurtured by the arrival of new digital techniques. Due to great changes that have taken place in the medium, artists are challenged to analyze anew, as it were, the capacities and qualities of film. In the work of Tacita Dean, references to the practices and traditions of film can also be discerned, though she develops new narrative and associative possibilities at the same time.

In De Pont’s collection are Der Jungbrunnen (1998)–in which various elements (film, photography and drawing) have been integrated into a single installation–and the short 16 mm film Disappearance at Sea I (1996). This film begins with a close-up of the lamps in a lighthouse. In the rhythm of the slowly revolving lamp, accompanied by a noise evidently produced by the mechanism, the blinding light flashes across the screen. After several minutes the scene changes. Now it is largely comprised of an evening view of the sea and sky, the horizon being just within the range of the lighthouse. At regular intervals, a weak ray of light glides across the panorama. The light diminishes almost imperceptibly, until night and the black sea have taken over the image. The sound of the rotating lamp continues to dominate the film however, also when there is nothing more for the eye to observe and the film becomes, as one critic has written, “a memory of itself, dissolved in a darkness which is no longer that of the film but the actual darkness of the projection room."

Underlying this work is Tacita Dean’s attempt to reconstruct events surrounding the death of a yachtsman at sea. The facts, dating from 1968, make up the confusing and bizarre story of a man who, having left his wife and children and as though desperately longing to achieve something great, yet inexperienced and poorly prepared, sets out on a journey around the world, with great encouragement from local businesses and authorities, and then drowns. In a poetic manner, Dean’s film touches on the sense of increasing loneliness and disorientation that this man must have experienced, but it is concentrated and detached enough to assume a more universal meaning.

Characteristic of Tacita Dean is her concern for the relationship between image and sound. In Disappearance at Sea I the sound of the lighthouse is a supportive element behind the images, and the perception of that sound seems to shift, for the viewer, from reality to imagination. Sometimes sound is the direct subject of Dean’s work. A work such as Foley Artist (1996), for instance, focuses on the notion of the soundtrack and on the dying art of artificially producing sound for film. This is a complex work in which various narratives overlap and in which one sees, working simultaneously, two sound artists producing soundtracks for the images. They do this on the basis of a script and with the aid of simple props such as sticks, wet newspapers and lengths of cloth–things which, in an almost comical way, are far removed from the ‘reality’ of the film images.