Tacita Dean


17 Jan - 16 May 2004
work in collection

Though several important works by Tacita Dean are part of De Pont’s collection, a large exhibition dedicated to her entire body of work has not been held before in Tilburg. Recently she has exhibited in Porto, Düsseldorf and Paris, and work by her has been shown at the 2003 Venice Biennial. In 1998 Dean was nominated for the Turner Prize, and in 2002 she was awarded the Kunstpreis Aachen.

Ten years after her first presentation in the Netherlands (at Witte de With, Rotterdam, in 1994) De Pont is now showing at least ten installations from the period since then. A major part of this work is comprised of the films for which Dean is best known and which constitute the core of her work. In this, she deals with the complex themes of time, history and memory.

Tacita Dean (Canterbury 1965, lives and works in Berlin) makes use of the various approaches and possibilities offered to her by the medium of film. The documentary investigation, the narrative structure and the relationship between the sound and the image are significant elements in this. Dean is fascinated with the magic of the film image. “With film you look, and with video you just see,” she once said in an interview, indicating that film compels us to watch in a careful manner. Dean moreover instills her subjects with this intentness of observation. In her sixteen-millimeter film Disappearance at Sea I (1996) for example, a lighthouse beam is cast in slow rotation, illuminating patches of cliff and sea in the darkness. Here the sea is not only the vast setting for the endless cycle of time; it is also the place where amateur yachtsman Donald Crowhurst became totally disoriented on board his trimaran in 1969 and disappeared without a trace. In several of her works, Dean refers to the story of this man. The film Teignmouth Electron (2000) deals with the adventures of the boat of the same name on which Crowhurst made his fatal voyage. The boat is found empty, is sold and eventually, in 1994, is rediscovered on the beach of a Caribbean island.

In much of Dean’s work, the sea plays an important role. The early work Girl Stowaway (1994) is based on the history of a girl who, disguised as a boy, travelled from Australia to England as a stowaway on a large sailing vessel in 1928. Dean became fascinated by this remarkable adventure and allowed various story lines to mingle in her work. About this she writes the following: “Her voyage (...) had a beginning and an end, and exists as a recorded passage of time. My own journey follows no such linear narrative. It started at the moment I found the photograph but has meandered ever since, through unchartered research and to no obvious destination. It has become a passage into history along the line that divides fact from fiction, and is more like a journey through an underworld of chance intervention and epic encounter than any place I recognise. My story is about coincidence, and about what is invited and what is not.”

Bubble House (1999) is also based on the story of an eccentric adventurer, a Frenchman who wanted to build, on one of the Cayman Islands, a futuristic house that could withstand the force of tropical storms. The construction of the house was never finished, and the man ended up in prison for having committed fraud.

With all of Tacita Dean’s films, meticulous editing and the relationship between the image, the sound and the spatial installation are important factors: “Disappearance at Sea particularly is related to the relationship between the projector and the screen and the bulbs; the projecting light, both in the image and in the space. The screens are a very specific size. It is all very controlled.”

This can also be said with respect to Baobab (2002), a short film and several photographs of the imposing African monkey-bread tree in the light of the setting sun. And Pie (2003) shows magpies finding their places in the treetops as evening falls. The behavior of the birds and the change of light are used as a metaphor for the passing of time.

The recent work Boots (2003) is a trilogy, filmed in the unoccupied villa Casa Serralves (now part of the museum for modern art) in Porto. In the film an old man (Boots) brings up memories, recounting these in three different languages. Here fiction and reality, as well as past and present, are intertwined.

Along with the films, the work Jukebox 2 (2001) has been included in the exhibition. In Dean’s jukebox, one can listen to fragments of sound by selecting geographical destinations and moments of the day. Like the films, this work is also about a desperate longing to move through time and space.

With Girl Stowaway, two blackboard drawings are shown. Dean’s Alabaster Drawings (2002) and the print series The Russian Ending (2001) are also included in the exhibition. The former work consists of four drawings, the image of which has been cut in soft alabaster. Tacita Dean’s drawings relate to her film work by way of the storyboard-like notes and instructions. At the same time, they are independent works, executed in masterly line and displaying the same sharpness of observation that characterizes her films.