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Tacita Dean at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

It takes something very big to fill the immense space of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.  Only eleven artists have done so in the past, and the twelfth is Tacita Dean.  The last artist to fill the space was Ai Weiwei with his awesome display of porcelain sunflower seeds.  This time it’s a 35mm film strip turned on its side and projected on the wall of the Hall from the back of the building.

The artist said, “I’ve turned the Turbine Hall into a strip of film.”  Her presentation is 11 minutes long and its images are utterly compelling even if the viewer knows nothing at all about this aspect of photography.  Dean titled her work, “Film” and it is both a tribute and a eulogy to the fading art of film making as it was in its beginning.

Due to the advance of digital technology, there are only a handful of people left who use, make or develop the old 16mm and 35mm film.  Dean has worked with this medium during her entire career, and says she’s sad to see it disappearing like the dinosaurs, only faster.

Visitors to Turbine Hall can see her exhibit as a film loop that runs like a montage of flickering images.  Don’t look for a plot; the images segue from clock to snail to empty house to birds in a tree . . .far too many and diverse for description in words.  The ‘movie’ is not in the usual landscape format but rather more like portrait form – much taller than it is wide.

Tacita Dean is a superlative artist in her own medium; no wonder she has created such a work to commemorate the best aspects of film making in the ‘golden age’ of film as she sees it.  She used studio techniques like double exposure and glass-matte painting, in fact adding some of the images with her own hand.  The silent film that resulted is an eleven-minute stroll in the magical world of her imagination, and it really does feel like magic.

Dean is certainly not alone in her admiration and affection for the 35mm medium.  The book that accompanies her “Film” boasts contributors such as Martin Scorsese and Stephen Spielberg as well as Keanu Reeves and Neil Young in a discussion of analogue films.  Dean’s installation was commissioned for the Unilever Series, and she is the third British artist to fill up Turbine Hall.

The term ‘antiquated’ applies, in its best sense, to the art and technique of analogue films.  Out-dated it surely is, but Tacita Dean, like many others, does not want to see it die.  “Film” is her statement that the  art form she knows best is worth preserving, and if you doubt that, go see the movie.

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