TACITA DEAN: research of theory, practice and techniques

Notes Key:

Turquoise – direct research notes (own)

Teal – notes contributing to practice


“Tacita Dean: Analogue” edited by Theodora Vischer and Isabel Friedli


    • [referring to digital] “But for me, it just does not have the means to create poetry; it neither breathes nor wobbles, but tides up our society, correcting it and then leaves no trace […] not born of the physical world, but is impenetrable and intangible.” – page 8
      • indicating that film photography creates poetic work
      • digital aims to correct the world
      • film coexists with it
    • [further comment on digital – physical properties of film] “It is too far from drawing, where photography and film have their roots: the imprint of light on emulsion, the alchemy of circumstance and chemistry, marks upon the support.” – page 8
      • photography and film stem from drawing – therefore hold similar aims and procedures
      • she highlights and comments on the physicality of film photography – the physicality of the process – how the photo negative comes into existence through a raw interaction with the environment

    • “Looking through photographs , it becomes clear that these panels are not individual pictures that stand alone; each of the drawings is in fact a further development of the previous one […] points towards the next one.” – page 12
    • [process/technique] “the process of erasing and over-drawing as a means of developing a story […] This method of making the image multi-layered and dense – by way of using erasure as a visual element – has become a hallmark of Dean’s Work and a crucial factor in constituting its visual impact.” – page 13
      • the action/narrative literally takes place on the surface – all the marks and traces make up the final image – we might not see the entire story but that’s how its current state came to be
    • “they bear witness to a creative process over a period of several weeks or even months, which Dean considered a pivotal phase in her work.” – page 14
      • the process becomes part of the artwork
      • allowing the drawing to have a time frame of its own – creating a piece over an extended period of time allows it to live – it increases its value and significance
    • [on notations] “The main visual elements in the blackboard drawings, apart from the drawings themselves, are acting and stage directions from the world of film and theatre […] tiny notations, like choreography.” – page 18
      • influence from film and theatre
        • very reoccurring and present in her work
      • film (especially early film) and theatre encapsulate a raw time and space
        • allowing for imperfections to take place
        • allowing naturality of objects and subjects
        • their raw and unfulfilled characteristics emerge as a result
        • unedited
        • similar to the natural workings of the human perception systems
    • [on notations] “‘From the moment I started to draw I always located whatever I was doing in a time and a place‘” – page 18
      • the setting therefore is less of an abstract idea, but rather something we can imagine and place ourselves within
    • [on notations] “done with words such as ‘location – Sicily, horizon, 3p.m. […] opening sequence – eruption, overboard, or simply action, cut, exit, marking an event or a break that adds a dynamic edge to the visual image.” – page 18
      • use of words – indicative words – to convey a presence of a specific time and space – placing the observer amongst it – engulfing them in it
      • to give context
      • set a more accurate scene
      • empirically accurate
    • [on notations] “‘[…] it’s in order to give the impression that these are films already. Somehow they are films.'” – page 18
      • therefore what she is trying to achieve through drawing has its roots in her passion for filmmaking – multi-dimensionality? narrative? time as something which can be manipulated and/or represented/documented in many different ways?
      • language of film
      • panel drawings = storyboard = they are films – simply a different form
      • A great significance in understanding Dean’s work lays in her use and preference of film
        • WHAT IS A FILM?
          • “thin flexible strip of plastic/other – covered with light-sensitive emulsion for exposure in a camera”
          • “a story/event recorded by a camera”
          • a great example/material using the concept of reciprocal phenomenology
            • their existence interacts when set in action by the motion of the camera’s shutter
            • film physically captures time and space
            • it exists in the same time and space – for a while is a physical part of it – one of the units of its composition
            • has a similar physicality and fragility
              • sense of touch
            • it is physically and directly impacted by the surrounding
            • light bounces off the two objects
            • film and the space/object or subject have the same materiality
              • fragility
              • impacted by light
              • aging with time
              • impacted by weather conditions and temperature
    • tension […] rooted in the sheer intensity of the filmic images in which each action seems ro be suspended in timelessness.” – page 18
    • “It is as though Dean were using the medium of film, which is inherently linked with movement and action, as a means of expressing the dramatic potential of stillness.” – page 18
        • suspending time and space – creates tension – for the viewer it allows imagination to take control – to take them into that suspended dimension and explore it visually and emotively – they form the movement – set the drawing into action
      • tensions is rooted in TIMELESSNESS of the action
      • Dean is manipulating the medium of film (motion in its nature) to explore/express/investigate the “dramatic potential of stillness”
      • a dramatic scene suspended in time
        • stillness would exaggerate its power tension and complexity of movement – dramatizing it – intensifying its impact on the perceiver
        • the viewer allowed to dissect, analyse and explore (just as the creator does during the creative production process) the scene/event/space for themselves, forgetting that they are in a way a vicarious observer of that memory/space/time
          • a great example of this would probably be a still of film capturing an explosion
            • particles floating around – visible in the air
            • if it was closer to the viewer and they/we were experiencing it very directly we would be consumed and surrounded by the scene, frozen in time and space
    • “‘ I realised that the nature of the blackboards is very connected to the sea, its constant motion, flux, change.” – page 18
    • [talking about the ocean as a subject] “But I need that abyss, the dark abyss of the ocean.'” – page 19
      • the sea = the dark abyss
      • “a constant motion, flux, change”
      • ABYSS:
        • deep/seemingly bottomless chiasm (deep fissure in Earth’s surface)
          • FISSURE: long, narrow opening/line of breakage made by cracking/splitting (of rock/earth)
  • “BOOTS” (2003)

    • “you notice the action of walking because it’s flawed. If he was an able walker the narrative wouldn’t be about this slow walk through the building, through time, through memory.” – page 17
      • “through the building, through time, through memory…” – his walk perhaps becomes a metaphor for his life – the fact that his walking is flawed reflects his years of experience, his age – just like wrinkles on the skin indicate previous life, and years of experience – his slow walk and pace are an opportunity for the audience to reflect on the concept of time and its relation to life itself – the elongated period of time, it takes him to walk, is a reflection of his life lived
    • “The only reason you notice it, is because it’s a flawed action. It’s the same with so many things. You notice things when they have a flaw; when they touch failure.” – page 17
    • “The notion that vision and images emerge in the act of walking is one that Dean embraced early on as a personal and formative mode of perception.” – page 17
    • NOTES:
      • walking:
        • conveys transition
        • movement of particles in time and space
        • movement
        • gradual time-consuming process
      • imperfect – we pay attention
  • “MAGNETICS” (1996-1998)

    • “It shows you the transcription of time, the physical embodiment of time, which film also does, but which a digital tape cannot give you.” – page 21
    • “The very nature of a film strip is the presentation of a sequence of images. This relates to time.” – page 21
    • [talking about the editing process of film] “You can always only go backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, so it means you always travel in one direction or back again.” – page 21
    • [the relationship between drawings and films] “is always established in the context of a linear process, which applies equally to series, to the repeated over-drawing or re-drawing of surface structures as well as the motif of walking” – page 21
    • ‘Linear confidence’ […] is an underlying attitude that characterises Dean’s entire oeuvre.” – page 21

    • Mapping […] cartography documenting the landscapes contained in the alabaster – can also reveal maps of fictitious or mental landscapes” – page 22

    • [about the camera] “[it] traces things and places, describing them, capturing their light, exploring surfaces, revealing unnoticed phenomena within the visible only to lose them again, underscoring that moment when something slips out of grasp.” – page 23
    • “Time in the film […] corresponds […] to the time it takes to perceive what is seen, the time in which the object of the film can become the subject.” – page 23
  • “PAINTED TREES” (2005)

    • [technique] “eight flee market postcards showing mature trees […] overpainted in white […] paint is generously applied to cover the colours of the area surrounding the trees, leaving the individual trunks and branches of all sizes appear all the more monumental.” – page 26

‘Drawing Time: Tacita Dean’s Narratives of Inscription’: []


    • “One of the pleasures of looking at drawing is the way in which […] the viewer is able to re-experience, to a degree, the process of that drawing’s manifestation.”
    • “To produce a drawing, marks are made on a surface that did not previously bear them; something emerges through the gesture of the maker.”
    • her films (which are recordings of her drawing process) described as traces of traces
    • “Traces are more than marks because there is something to them that is not a matter of the perception of their qualities – that is what I am calling the DIMENTION OF ABSENCE. Their presence indicates an absence on which they depend for their very presentness.”
      • TRACES – exists as traces due to their disappearing qualities – their existence is dependant on fleeting
    • ” involves both excess as an event of contact, and absence as a trace that has been left behind: both involve a ‘not-seeing’ […] blindness is associated with a stain or smear on a surface”
    • ” For Derrida, drawing involves blindness in its making, and a drawing of the blind is a self-portrait of the one who draws, because the mark of drawing has an intrinsic relation to the trace.” (with reference to a text by Jacques Derrida ‘Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins‘)
      • The trace for Derrida is: non-presence constitutive of the present that provides full presence impossible and therefore undermines the project of a phenomenology of perception with its watchword ‘to the things themselves’
    • story arises in relation to the mark as trace, trace of absence and trace of the other: the story concerns that which withdraws from or exceeds presence
      • traces and their absence create a vital presence that constructs our ideas of the composition – as well as time itself – it represents time – shows us the present and the past – perhaps even a possible future?
        • absence gives us more information on the qualities of the object/scene we are perceiving 
        • placing the past and the present situates the viewer in an engulfing void of multi-dimensional time – where time is moving in various directions simultaneously
        • is an indication of existence – fleeting existence – history – faint – something quick which has passed barely unnoticed
      • in my own practice: traces to play a significant role in depicting layers – movement and interaction between layers – their relation to one another – showing their connection – relevance of the past in relation to the present – foreboding the rapid shifting of the ‘present’ – the viewer to realise that the ‘present’ is unstable – futile
        • within the mind: traces still exists – just because they aren’t in the foreground at the time, doesn’t mean that they have completely dissolved – they form what we currently see – they form our current ‘present’ – traces of memories – traces of our lived pasts – they form the basis for who we are, what/how we perceive – ongoing foundation
        • similar properties to thin threads which construct tapestries etc.



    • began making her blackboard drawings in 1992
    • “The blackboard drawings allow erasure – rubbings out – to be manifest”
    • IMPORTANT ——> “Time […] works in two dimensions: laterally from board to board, and in depth through the layering of the marks and their erasure.”
      • multi-dimensionality of time
      • time ‘created’/captured/represented through the artist’s techniques and process
      • (referring to sequence of boards):
        • “relates to sequence and thus (potential) narrative”
        • sequential depiction spatialises time, lays it out in front of the viewer”
          • allows to display time – as something linear – contrary to it’s multi-dimensionality – easier for us to grasp and understand
          • shows a story of time – presents history in a linear pattern
      • (referring to layering and erasure of marks):
        • “suggests the temporality of emergence into presence, and withdrawal into concealment”
        • “touch on the limits of any such spatialisation”
        • “(characteristic also of William Kentridge’s films such as Felix in Exile (1994), where the process of inscription, erasure, and re-inscription is made manifest in the animation)” – see also ‘Felix in Exile’ (1994) by William Kentridge
    • “words in Dean’s Blind Pan (2004) […] seem almost like annotations – on something between a landscape and a map, literally a topo-graphy”
    • “synoptic space and linear time are evoked only to be disrupted”
    • “Dean’s is an art not of progress and control but of anachronism and chance
      • ANACHRONISM – “a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists” – online definition

Tacita Dean: Landscape, Portrait, Still Life[]

  • “about the meaning of film as a material, as it is about the subjects she explores through the medium of film”
  • “Dean’s ‘analogue’ means ‘a representation of an object that resembles the original; not a transcription or a translation but an equivalent in a parallel form’”
    • there is a true reciprocal relationship between the photographer and their subject
    • a film photograph therefore doesn’t lack livelihood – it represents an object in that specific time and space – and doesn’t translate it to fit into the present time
    • the aim of film photography isn’t to copy the natural world, the subject or the time and space – it is a form of depiction of the space that keeps it’s authenticity – preserves the time and space

FATF – Five Minutes on Film with Tacita Dean []

  • “the message is in the medium […] the medium is the artwork”

Tacita Dean, on Film. Interview at ACCA 2013. []

  • “it also involves a level of blindness, you don’t know what you’re going to get, it’s always sort of slightly mysterious, and in my other films this blindness is also for me quite a working tool because you film and then weeks later you see your footage but in that time your memory of what you’ve done is shifting…the entire time and so it’s much more macrurial…what you see that you have, it’s already travelled a journey, whereas this immediacy… I think it’s you know…another difference…it’s all about difference”
  • “the importance of the grain, the importance of the chemistry, the mistake the flaw


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s