Tacita Dean: Moving Notes
In her photogravures, Tacita Dean brings found photographs together with literary narratives. The handwritten notes and stage directions open up a kind of stage space for new stories. Her works in the exhibition “Deceptive Images” resemble film storyboards.
Photography and film have always been associated with the phenomenon of movement in a variety of ways. Technical reasons meant that anything in motion was invisible in early photographs—unless the scenes were very brightly lit, in which case the moving objects merely left ghostly traces on the photographic paper. From the outset, people dreamed of being able to produce views of cities that were “[…] enlivened by the bustling, colorful crowds of their inhabitants.” (Horace Vernet, 1839) However, this required some technical innovations ranging from the portable camera to more light-sensitive material. With the help of these developments, the picture—or copies of it—could finally travel around the world, regardless of its origin. With the advent of motion picture, this process took off again, the images coming to life and thrilling audiences in fairground booths.
Between still images and moving notes
The artist Tacita Dean seems to decelerate moving images and expand still images with movement through mark making, which contrasts the relentless determinism of technology to which we have become accustomed. She also makes use of century old methods: in this digital age, she’s committed to maintaining the use of photochemical processes, shooting her films exclusively on analogue 16mm or 35mm film. Instead of action-packed stories typical of the “big screen,” what makes these films so fascinating is their meditative, painterly quality achieved with a mostly static camera, the rich colors of analogue film and long takes.
By contrast, her graphic works seem to produce a kind of movement within a still image. Handwritten notes by the artist overlie the picture plane, making them reminiscent of a movie storyboard. In a process of “sedimentation of thought” (Tacita Dean, 2018), her ideas make their way into the pictures, deposit themselves there, and merge with them to form something new.
The work “Quarantania” (2018)
The “Mount of Temptation,” which according to the Bible is in the West Bank, is at the center of this large-format, colored photogravure. The title of the work refers to the name of the mountain. “Quarantania” comes from the Latin word “quarentena”—a reference to the forty days of fasting during which Jesus was tested by Satan, who offered him all the kingdoms of the world if he would only reject God. Dean found the albumen print of Mount Quarantania over a decade ago, and was immediately attracted by the strange beauty of the mountain as well as the striking detail of the early print. Using the image in combination with a more radical use of color, she chose to create a hallucinogenic scape as a pathetic fallacy for Christ’s state of mind after forty days without food.