Art News & Views

Tacita Dean at Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London

The Month That Was

by Preeti Kathuria

A 13-metre high monumental filmstrip column installed at the extreme end of a capacious space makes the visitor walk towards exciting imagery in sheer wonderment. Feeling enveloped in the vast darkness of the gallery and the only source of light being the celluloid strip, one gradually cascades towards it or deviates completely to move on to other better-visible options. Tate Modern's twelfth commission in The Unilever Series is a film piece by British artist Tacita Dean. The work is an 11-minute, silent, 35mm looped film projected onto a monolith inside a blackened Turbine Hall. The building used to be a power station before it got converted into a colossal gallery which today stands as a very challenging space to exhibit contemporary art.

Curated by Nicholas Cullinan, Curator of International Modern Art, Tate Modern the FILM not only complements the character of the challenging architectural façade of the Turbine Hall but its thin format also works harmoniously with the expansive longitudinal surroundings.  The film panels consist of tasteful layering and juxtaposing of imagery where form and colour interact in mystic, surreal ways. It consistently generates interesting dynamics when visitors through their gestures, postures and sounds make silhouettes against the illuminated screen.  People stand and watch attentively or lean against walls or sit on the floor; some see the film loop numerous times, others with a shorter attention span tend to drift away. The screening is quite cinematic but has a distinct performative element which gets realized through the visitor's presence or absence.

Tacita Dean considers film as her prime medium of artistic expression and has taken the responsibility to raise an alarm on the decreasing use and availability of film as the digital media is taking over. According to Chris Dercon, Director, Tate Modern: “Tacita Dean's commission for The Unilever Series is a response not only to the architecture of the Turbine Hall, but also to a particular historical moment. Our rapid shift from analogue to digital technologies threatens the medium of film's survival, as well as our ability to experience and preserve it for future generations. This beautiful and radical work is an expression of Dean's passion for film and its importance to visual culture.”

The Unilever Series was launched with Louise Bourgeois's I Do, I Undo, I Redo in year 2000 and since then some of most interesting contemporary art works have been exhibited there, like Anish Kapoor with Marsyas in 2002, Olafur Eliasson's Weather Project in 2003 and Bruce Nauman's sound installation Raw Materials in 2004. In 2007 Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth dramatically broke open the floor of the Turbine Hall, and a lot of visitors fell in the trap considering it a tape running across the floor and not a real crack. Salcedo's crack in the floor was an astounding experience and very recently in 2010, controversy-ridden artist Ai Weiwei created Sunflower Seeds, a physical landscape of hand-made porcelain replicas of seeds. I feel the Unilever Series has created a landmark image for itself and people look forward to the next big thing that would get projected in the Turbine Hall. Different works and artists received different responses and criticism but the number of footfalls has never fallen short and this itself is a success.

The show started on October 11, 2011  and continues till March 11, 2012.

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