ruination displaces celebration


DESCENDING TO THE BASEMENT of the Schaulager—Herzog & de Meuron’s sand-encrusted bunker with its slashing gash of a window—one was beset by a sound that seemed oddly antique, like that of typewriter keys or rotary phone dials: the whir and clatter of a film projector. It was apparent in that sound, now threatened with obsolescence, that Tacita Dean’s retrospective (organized by Theodora Vischer) was called “Analogue” for both polemical and nostalgic reasons. “Analogue, it seems, is a description,” the artist writes in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, “a description, in fact, of all things I hold dear.” Dean’s fidelity to 16-mm film and its bulky, outmoded apparatus, as digital technology quickly renders them obsolete, defines her art and her outlook; the materiality of the medium seems a bulwark against a fast-advancing future where imagery is insubstantial, endlessly transmutable, there but not there. Dean is no loon or Luddite in her lost-cause allegiance to celluloid. As the poet of imperiled sites, abandoned dwellings, defunct technology, and architectural relics, she is at once an English romantic, an aesthetic descendant of Turner, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Michael Powell, and a recalcitrant materialist. She adheres to the concrete and quantifiable even as her artworks often proceed from found objects, chance events, and coincidences, and her films rely on evanescent, unpredictable nature for their mysterious beauty—twilight skies tinted mint, rose, peach, and darkling purple (Boots, 2003; Fernsehturm, 2001); blackbirds gathering to ominous mass in the dusk (Pie, 2003); a triptych of grass, trees, and sky invaded by lowing cows (Baobab, 2002); seascapes roiling and becalmed (Bubble House, 1999; Sound Mirrors, 1999); late afternoon light glowing molten on glass or burnished wood (Fernsehturm; Boots; Palast, 2004).

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