Monday, 2 January 2012

The Unilever Series: Taciter Dean at the Tate Modern

In the darkened, cavernous space of the Tate's Turbine Hall a 13 metre screen stands. Not only does this impressive piece stand as a moving tribute to the demise of analogue filmaking, but also, in its own right,  successfully commands the space with an ambition comparable to Olafur Eliason's 'The Weather Project' (in which the Turbine Hall was basked in the HUUUUGE orange glow of a recreated sun). Both exhibitions/installations genuinely invigorate the daunting hangar-like space with a simple, but memorably affecting, vision. Watching the stretched screen flick between the industrial cigar of a monolithic chimney, to lapping waves on a shoreline, sprouting mushrooms, abstract colours, escalator steps and the slow inquisition of a snail on a leaf...all conspire to create a beautiful and surreal cinematic poem. The screen is utilized not conventionally as a simple window on to the world view-but instead  seems aware of its static property as an installation, becoming at times like a moving portrait-painting realised in motion...at times very tangibly like a window (not an unreflexive, unquestioning window on to the world eye), fragmented into stain glass cathedral gravitas. Even bored toddlers scurrying around the empty and dark hall couldnt detract from the magic. If anything their tiny sillhouettes, scuttling in sugar high circles, served to further enhance the monumental size and power of the screen. Running right up to the 13 foot cinematic beast, unlike their musing and dull parental counterparts, the children enhanced the viewing-unwittingly evoking the interactive power of cinema.


It also seemed a paticularly pertinent time to see the Tacita Dean film - rather than simply a fond nostalgia for the reel and cell, projectionist craft of film-it reminds us of the importance of such shifting milestones in cinema. Timing which coincides with the release of Michel Hazanavicius' inventive silent film 'The Artist'. The film follows a silent film star (complete with admirable moustache and comedy pet dog) struggling to find work with the advent of the 'talkies'. A film therefore dealing with the possible trauma of change, and one that explores the impact of technology upon an artistic medium. The tension between technical advances and artistic loyalties...with the welcome addition of a pet dog. There is one scene in which our ill fated star (Valentin) is shown feverishly tearing apart the reels of film, film that has come to represent his faded past and former glory. This physical grappling with the art form resonates with the Tacita Dean film; it seems Valentin's outburst of desperation in which he tries to destroy film comes unnervingly close to reminding us (as viewers...as an audience) how film, as a physicality, is being lost. However, that is somewhat warping the purpose of the scene through a lack of context - what could be comically intriguing, is a modern update: a contemporary aspiring actor/actress in a moment of career darkness opens her apple mac to calmly click away at the countless tiny digital folders in which her life...her work, is stored. Not quite as visceral...no need for fire or a frantic tearing of celluloid-just the detached tap of a touch pad.

 Although the film/digital change has long been on the cards...and it is woefully far from me to have any stumbling clue about the intricate history... and general facts of the whole...thing. It is clear enough that instead of simply being a change of economic advantage and advanced versatility, it will mark a definite shift in the aesthetic properties,style and editing nature of films to come. I have no overwhelming romantic attachment to the warmth or look of film over new digitalized approaches (as I am not a self proclaimed cinephile...but rather a procrastinator with a love of films...and a dangerous addiction to amazon purchases), but it seems significant to realise and consider this change with the attention and time it deserves. The style and approach to watching film, and making film, are changing with all the agility of the morph-tastic opening credits of David Fincher's remake of 'The Girl With Dragon Tattoo'...things be movin' quick...and in such breathless times the ability to sit down and absorb the atmosphere, scale, and beauty of the Tacita Dean film offers a much needed pause for contemplation.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting piece - do you think there will be an increase in the nostalgic revisitting of past forms and styles of film as a result of the shift to digital?
    I read a Guardian artcle recently on 'The Artist and the rise of retrovision' that discussed this - http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/jan/07/the-artist-retrovision-grindhouse?newsfeed=true

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