ARTICLE GILLIAN SAGANSKY
WHILE BERLIN-BASED BRITISH ARTIST TACITA DEAN IS MOST COMMONLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE YOUNG BRITISH ARTISTS MOVEMENT OF THE 1990S (THINK JAKE AND DINOS CHAPMAN, TRACEY EMIN AND DAMIEN HIRST), HER APPROACH IS MORE CONCEPTUAL THAN THOSE OF HER PEERS. INTERESTED IN THE PHYSICALITY OF FILM ITSELF, DEAN SHOOTS ON CELLULOID AND IS DEVOTED TO OTHER ANALOG FORMS OF REPRESENTATION. V MET WITH MS. DEAN AT THE MARIAN GOODMAN GALLERY JUST MINUTES BEFORE THE OPENING OF HER MOST RECENT SHOW, WHICH WILL BE ON DISPLAY UNTIL MARCH 16TH
In her current show, Dean is exhibiting Fatigues (2012) and The Friar’s Doodle (2010). Fatigues is a series of blackboard drawings depicting an annual flood in Kabul that was originally commissioned for dOCUMENTA13, the renowned roving art exhibition that took place in Kabul during Summer 2012. In The Friar’s Doodle, a camera closely pans around a photocopy of a drawing that a friar gave Dean when she was twelve years old. The camera surveys the drawing so closely that the viewer never sees the drawing in its entirety, and is instead left to piece its enigmatic contents together detail by detail.
How did the idea for Fatigues first come about?
TD It was actually a collection of things that went wrong. I was very busy with the Turbine Hall in 2011. For Documenta I was interested in doing something in Kabul but I didn’t want to go there. So the idea of a blind film came about, which was that I’d send a film camera and film out there since they don’t have access to film in Kabul there and the cameraman would send it back. So the film was shot and even though I sent instructions it went incredibly wrong. I didn’t realize it went wrong until after I had the opening of the Turbine Hall when I looked at the footage. The cameraman had filmed with the lens on! He left the zoom lens on the 16mm. It wasn’t retrievable.
So I phoned up Documenta to find out if I still had the space I originally asked for, which was very cinematic and perfect to show film in. It turned out the space had been taken and they offered me a tax office that had never been used before instead. It was a three-story space with a balustrade and ornate staircase. When I saw this space I realized I couldn’t show a film there, so I started to think about wall-based things, but I still wanted to stick with Afghanistan. It was Christmas at the time, Documenta opened in June, I didn’t know if I had time to make a film, I didn’t know if I wanted to make a film. In the cameraman’s failed footage there was a moment of a flashflood going thru Kabul. That’s when I realized I would blackboard draw myself out of the situation. The narrative will be the melt, which happens annually.
You work across such a wide variety of media, from film, to blackboard drawings, to photographs, to sound installation, to name a few. I was wondering what comes first, the idea or the medium?
TD I don’t think there’s one singular answer to that, because they all come from different places. Sometimes the medium will come first, sometimes the idea will come first, sometimes they are very wedded and the moment is instantaneous and they come with their medium.
I couldn’t help but ask since it had been ten years since your last blackboard drawing...
TD That’s true, but I knew I could ultimately fall back on my old drawing ability. They’re called Fatigues because my work at the Turbine Hall was a fight for film. I felt exhausted; I was tired. So to go back to drawing felt like a relief in a way. So Fatigues has a double meaning. It means an army uniform but it was also my state after the Turbine Hall.
How about the other piece displayed in the gallery, the film, The Friar’s Doodle? Can you tell me about the motivation for the work? What was it about this specific drawing that was so captivating?
TD I was twelve or thirteen. I was already very into art. I remember his name was Brother Martin. He showed me his doodle drawing and I was very impressed by it and he was quite proud. He made a photocopy for me and I kept it all these years. I don’t know why, I mean I was twelve, but I kept it, so I knew where to find it when the idea to use it suddenly occurred to me. I had kept the doodle in an old book written by another Franciscan friar ever since I left school. I’m interested as to why I would keep the drawing, but I did. Could you find something from when you were twelve? It’s actually quite a big thing.
But I feel the majority of your work has undercurrents of happenstance and fortuitousness, so I feel like it’s actually rather appropriate.
TD Yes, it’s true. I was in the Reina Sofia and I immediately thought—the friar’s doodle! The friar’s doodle! I knew I had it, I knew it was in the book, I just had to find the book.
What is it about film and your interaction with the celluloid that has kept you so dedicated to the medium for all these years?
TD There are many reasons why I work with film but the most important is that time is embedded into film in a way that it’s not in digital at all. You have to encounter time when you make a film because it’s finite. I was filming an interview for instance, and every ten minutes the film would run out but the people would continue talking and I would have to change the film, but had to give the semblance of continuous conversation. It’s all about fiction. It’s time’s relationship to fiction and edited time. I also need my artisanal process. I need to be alone to cut my films. My films don’t exist, I form them by cutting them. They’re so different from what they are when they’re shot. I need that concentrated solitude. I’m so in danger of losing it. The immediacy that digital has brought to our society is reflected in everything now. It’s had a massive effect on us that is totally underestimated.
It’s funny that there aren’t more efforts to preserve the analog modes of communication. You now find a Polaroid camera in trendy novelty shops.
TD It’s true, whatever survives will all be in trendy novelty shops if they’re there at all. I’m so worried about it. I can’t tell you how worried I am. There's nothing I can do. Hoarding it doesn’t help. I just stand on my soapbox all the time and say I can’t lose this way of making work. It’s not the same.
It’s really not, I agree. There’s also something very meditative about dealing directly with the celluloid, you feel part of the image.
TD Well it really is a physical thing. It’s imprinting with light. It’s been in our society for centuries, our relationship to alchemy, so it is just frustrating.
You are known to reincarnate the overlooked, turn the overlooked into a subject, and instill it with a life it’s never had. How do you choose these subjects you reincarnate?
TD It’s not always so deliberate. Sometimes the subjects just come, all from a different place. There is no answer. Things come to the surface. For me what’s important is to work on the level slightly below my conscious level, sometimes things just come up and occur to me. I can’t answer that question in a way.
Isn’t that frequently the case with you? Unconscious forces always seem to be at work...
TD There is this incredible—I don’t know—how things happen. Things so nearly don’t happen so many times. Tiny little moments. For instance, I’m making a film called JG, and it all began by going to Sundance. Somebody said to me “Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is supposed to have risen.” It was 1997 at the time and it had been underwater since 1972, and I had these three days off after the festival and I tried to find it. That little moment in 1997 has created a huge amount of work and other things came from that. It’s the tiniest, tiniest things sometimes.
Your entire practice is informed by these crazy coincidences though. Forget a Taschen monograph. You really need a Supernatural Tacita Dean book.
TD I know I know. I’m always terrified that it will lose me though as soon as I make it too conscious, so I’m so careful not to become too conscious of where I’m going because I need to not know. Chance is one of my working materials. I need it. It’s really important that I don’t know it though. The work that interests me the least is the work where there’s no transformation between idea and the final thing, it’s like there's no journey. I need the journey. The journey is what interests me.
Fatigues and The Friar's Doodle will be at Marian Goodman Gallery, 24 West 57th Street until March 16th.