Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom
From: 11 October 2011
Until: 11 March 2012
The Unilever Series: Tacita Dean
Sunday - Thursday: 10am until 6pm
Friday - Saturday: 10am until 10pm
Tacita Dean has been talking about FILM, her new work at the Tate Modern. FILM is an 11-minute, 35mm looped film projected onto a monolith 13 metres tall at the end of a darkened Turbine Hall. It’s both a celebration of and a eulogy for a fast disappearing medium and takes over the venue until March 11, 2012. It was made by turning a Cinemascope lens 90 degrees and upending the usual landscape format of the movie screen so it becomes vertical, scaling itself to the proportions of the hall. The film itself was constructed using disappearing techniques such as masking, double-exposure and glass matte painting, to recapture the sense of wonderment generated by these skills during the early days of cinema. Dean placed her trust in the ‘blindness’ of the analogue process in order “to show film as film can be - film in its purest form.”
Playing with the distinctive character of the Turbine Hall’s East wall, FILM has the rhythm and metre of a visual poem. Images familiar from Dean’s past work - trees, lightning and seascapes - juxtapose with huge panels of colour and interact with the grid structure of the wall. Dean, who’s worked extensively with film in the past, once said she needs “the stuff of film as a painter needs the stuff of paint.”
But in recent months she has talked about the declining availability and access to film as digital technologies become the norm and photochemical labs close down - ideas she returned to during her talk at the Tate Modern on Monday this week. We’ve edited the talk down into what we feel are the most important things you need to know about the project before you go. Hope you enjoy it. We did.
In the beginning
“The moment Sheena Wagstaff (Chief Curator, Tate Modern) first asked me, I walked onto the bridge and looked across the Turbine Hall and thought ‘portrait format, anamorphic film’. I realised at that moment it was possible for me to take on this thing because I had the idea. I’m technically-minded enough to know that if you turn an anamorphic lens 90 degrees, instead of squashing left to right, it squashes top to bottom. We’ve just never done it because we’re tied to the landscape format in cinema. Only an artist has the freedom to leave the cinema and work in a space like the Turbine Hall. I knew FILM was going to be in portrait format but for a long time but that’s all I knew. After that it took on a sort of momentum. What happened at a certain point is that I looked at that grid structure of the back wall of The Turbine Hall and realised there was almost a Mondrian in there. So once I developed the language I could do what I liked. It’s very related to collage actually, which becomes montage in film.”
The reality behind the image
“It’s portrait format and of course it’s a portrait of film. Because this year has been a pivotal one in the threat to film it took on this identity and momentum. It’s borne out of circumstance because I am functioning in this world that is really threatened and the piece just became imbued with it.
I was visiting European labs and I suddenly realised that we are just about to lose this really beautiful medium we created 125 years ago or more. Even the lab in Holland I just moved to is suddenly under threat. Suddenly there are only three or four labs left in the world and they are all closing, and closing fast. If you are used to making films you know what you’re losing but if you’re just consuming them on your iPad or computer you’re less aware of it.
So it’s all to do with education to some extent. Neil Young personally typed me a letter (and he even then sent a correction!) It’s because they care. They really, really care [that] we are in danger of losing something. I’ve made film since I was a student at Falmer. I always loved film - it’s the language I loved and learned. My films are closer to paintings in a way but film is my medium.”
A ‘small’ artist in a big hall
“I’m not an artist known for my spectacular scale or anything like that. So I had to go somewhere I’d never been before. The Turbine Hall is about the spectacular - you can’t pretend it’s not. Early on I decided I’m going to do this spectacular. I’m not going to do a 148 minute film about an old man! In terms of previous commissions I was aware but not looking over my shoulder. I took it just for myself. Obviously I quote Olafur Eliasson’s weather project [via an image of the sun] - just because I could. I share my studio with Olafur in Berlin so I have a connection to him.”
It’s not about size - it’s about scale
“The film is all about proportion to the Turbine Hall. From the beginning it was about the portrait format and then it became about the 1 to 1.73 which is the proportion of the screen, which comes from the Arri 235 Aperture Mask I used. I actually walked around with a calculator for much of this project which I’d never done before. It became very mathematical because everything had to be 1 to 1.73 proportion. Until we walked in last week it was all a fiction, I had no idea of what it was going to look like in space. It was all done with bits of paper.”
The technical bit
“I really wanted to see if it was possible to make a film with no digital post-production at all which is a very important point about it. So I looked into the possiblilty of using aperture masks. We worked out how to make an aperture mask with masking in it. In the early cinema they used this masking technique which is like the binocular effect. Someone would be thinking of someone and there would appear a slightly soft circle with another film inside that. So in a film like this the film has gone through the camera 10 times to make that shot. You have to overexpose and underexpose. Every corner had it’s own mask you had to rewind and do the next part - so it was a highly technical but invisible process. With film you don’t know what you’re going to get, there’s no cheating or looking.”
She's not a Luddite!
“People said to me well could you have done that digitally but that’s not the point. Because it’s all borne out of the language of film. That’s the point. I digitally photocopied in three dimensions. If I need it, I use it. It’s not that I’m a luddite – I’m not. My sound is digital (in other films - FILM is silent). For some reason if you love film people think you hate digital. The point is digital is a separate medium it’s also a fantastic medium It’s got massive potential. I’m in no way anti-digital, I’d like to make that clear. The point about film is it’s come out of the disciplines of not being able to do anything in post-production. Digital relies on post-production so there is a whole industry of people that have just been wiped out and all their knowledge and information by just not being needed at the time anymore. A film shot in a studio is a very different event now. No longer do you rely on the moment so you lose the vitality of that moment because people just say, ‘oh we’ll do it later or we’ll fix it in post [-production].’ A painter works with paint and I work with film and I’m losing my ability to do that. It’s no longer hypothetical it’s actual and I don’t know the answer to that to be honest. I don’t know. I think I might go back to oil painting actually.”
It's kind of site specific
“The Turbine Hall is the leitmotif and weirdly enough I ended up having chimneys, waterfalls – they’re all about the production of power of course and energy which of course is the Turbine Hall - which is just an aside, it wasn’t conscious but as soon as you put a chimney in the Turbine Hall you’re also connecting to the roots and history of the building. The decision for silence was partly fiscal to be honest. But also the Turbine Hall has it’s own soundtrack so to compete with that… Early on I decided I wasn’t going to put sound on it. My only qualm was the relationship to early movies and silent film but it was also because we couldn’t afford it, actually!”
It’s all to do with the inventiveness of cinema
“That’s what I was celebrating, invention. They had to do it therefore they invented. I’m taking on the constraints of film. I had to fight against the medium in order to create.
What I think is one of the major and critical things missing (with digital) is discipline. Discipline is an incredibly important tool for an artist or a filmaker. And time of course because film is a medium of time. You always have a time limit and then it’s gone so that makes you decide and makes decision. Personally I think digital cinema has to find its own way. But the one thing that is problematic is that it has too much choice. It needs to learn how to deal with too much choice. Now people just fill endless stuff and they get exhaustion and they end up just using the first 15 minutes because they’re exhausted.”
The process was paramount
“The film is the closest to a transcription of an idea that I’ve ever done. It was a collection of disparate images and when I sat down to edit it I suffered terribly because I usually cut my film when I’m guided by the narrative of time but I had no narrative of time on this one. So that’s when I realised how difficult it is to make an experimental film. It took me a while and I did suffer for a bit because I edit on my own and it’s very physical. Over time I work it out. I had to wrestle with it. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t what I imagined but I never like to make what I imagine.”
The end was very nearly the end
“What happened is that partly because of a loss in skill we had a neg cutting error in the film of colossal proportions so I had to re cut the film last week and I was saved by this man Steve Farman. He’s the last professional negative cutter in the country in Tunbridge and he, god bless him, put all his scope cutting equipment in the back of his car and he drove to Amsterdam last Sunday, recut the film and I sat with him all through the night on Wednesday night. At 8 o’clock in the morning we left. He stayed an extra night and drove all the way back and dropped the films off at the Tate at two in the morning on Friday. That’s how close it was. That man is just a star.”